Direct Your Energies to Yield the Best Results

If you specialize in market research, human resources, brand design, or customer experience, you know how businesses suffer when they fall out of touch with what’s happening on the ground. It’s imperative for business leaders to understand that…

Positive employee experiences are the foundation for a strong, profitable business

Companies achieve a thriving workplace culture by responding to the needs of their employees—needs and perspectives that might come as a surprise. Younger generations in particular expect to have a voice in their workplace. These eager young adults can be an employer’s most enthusiastic assets. When they are listened to and understood, companies will have a full grasp of their own workplace culture, learn which technological tools to implement, and get a better feel for the specifics of the physical work environment.

Companies need accurate, nuanced feedback to make worthwhile improvements.

Many businesses believe they already know both what’s going on within their workplace and how their employees feel. They assume they know how they can make a difference and create a healthy workplace culture. Then they’re shocked when things go sideways. As an example, back in 1997, the United Parcel Service found itself mired in a costly strike just a handful of months after their annual workplace survey seemed to indicate that employee morale was at an all-time high.

Companies need accurate, nuanced feedback to make worthwhile improvements.

The problem? Typical workplace surveys are simply unable to provide the kind of feedback that yields practical insights into what a company’s employees are actually looking for. Even the best surveys necessarily remove all context and nuance in their data–the very essence of culture. Surveys leave little room for personal expression, providing only averages and means, abstracted from the particularities of human culture. . Most survey questions are framed in ways that betray their inherent biases and overlook basic human psychology. Respondents inevitably- “game” workplace surveys, ‘rewarding’ or ‘punishing’ the company, providing data that can lead management to ineffective actions.

Active Sensemaking uncovers the most useful and comprehensive insights.

So what is Active Sensemaking? It’s a methodology that’s gaining momentum in the market research and employee experience space. The approach takes in extensive data from a variety of inputs, identifying clear patterns that map out a range of potential solutions. Active Sensemaking reveals what are actual concerns, creates a more nuanced dialogue, and ultimately paves the way for effective action. It overcomes the limitations of workplace surveys by extracting feedback that is useful, comprehensive, and contextualized. Active Sensemaking data is careful to eliminate terms and phrases that may have strong connotations but actually provide little actionable value. For instance, the questionnaires make it a point to inquire about behavior and events. This specificity does away with generalities like “prioritizing safety” or “feeling listened to”—both crucial elements of the workplace, but concepts that need to be tied to verifiable data and real-life examples. A particular Glassdoor survey uncovered that 80% of employees prefer greater perks than higher pay. A pay and benefits survey that makes comparisons using concrete examples will paint a more revealing picture.

Active Sensemaking optimizes survey-taking for superior results.

The process formats its employee satisfaction questionnaire with a researched-backed design that includes broad-scope sections and questions that allow for longer informed answers rather than a reductive multiple-choice fill-in. These employee survey questions also steer away from rankings and favor “frequency estimates” like “never,” “always,” and “sometimes” rather than the binary agree/disagree. The Harvard Business Review found this categorization to be more reliable and accurate than a binary agree/disagree. Because the intake forms allow respondents to share and interpret their own experiences, Active Sensemaking is able to reveal patterns using more than just a numbers-based methodology. This in turn gives a richer and more nuanced picture of employee experience. Above all, Active Sensemaking uncovers how behaviors, processes, and workplace cultures relate to company output and operations. The insights that emerge, help to identify, guide, and shape useful action.


A public service agency was responsible for providing a multi-faceted set of essential services to a broad constituency, including a variety of vulnerable populations who are likewise served by multiple stakeholder groups, both within and external to the agency. After a government audit had revealed a range of short-comings and service delivery deficiencies, the agency initiated a deep and thorough review of every aspect of their work.

Given the diversity of stakeholders and stakeholder interests, and given the essential nature of the services delivered, the agency was concerned to ensure that every stakeholder would have a meaningful opportunity to add their voice to the review, contributing their perspectives and experiences. This led them to use active sensemaking as a core element in their research methodologies, with Spryng as the software platform for the initiative.

Through a series of workshops, a broadly representative stakeholder group of about 25 individuals helped develop a Spryng sensor instrument that would be relevant to the issues at hand. The sensor was then ‘released’ into the broader population, inviting people to share personal stories related to their experiences with the agency and its services, interpreting each experience shared via answers to a carefully crafted set of questions about their story.

At the end of the collection period, the stories (each with its interpretation from the contributor) were analyzed for patterns of interpretation and shared themes to be further explored. Then, through a series of workshops, another group of representative stakeholders dove into that data—the stories and the patterns of interpretation—making sense of the patterns and teasing out what they concluded were important insights and priorities for action, based on the qualitative and quantitative data from the respondents.

These were captured in a formal review document that provided the agency with insights grounded in the contexts and experiences of their clients and stakeholders. Moreover, the Agency’s stakeholder communities felt valued and respected as their voices informed the recommendations for moving forward.