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How an Innovative Approach to Pulse Surveys Paid Off for Principal

How an Innovative Approach to Pulse Surveys Is Paying Off for Principal®

Founded in 1879 as an insurance company and headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa, Principal Financial Group® is a Fortune 500 member committed to delivering real-life solutions that help customers of all incomes and portfolio sizes make financial progress. With 18,500 employees working across the world, Principal® understands the necessity of driving engagement across the entire employee experience.

In 2020, the company went looking for a partner to elevate its listening strategy and found a unique solution, now Dialogue from Perceptyx, incorporating crowdsourcing and voting. From there, Perceptyx’s relationship with Principal has expanded to include lifecycle surveys and 360 leader feedback.

Starting the Dialogue During the Pandemic

When Principal launched the Dialogue product in March 2020, the world had entered the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Employees across the company had been sent home, and leadership needed insight into how everyone was doing.

Carolyn Petsche, who serves as assistant director for Talent Management at Principal, recalled the importance leadership placed on implementing a product that would enable listening at scale. “Knowing we wanted to immediately get employee feedback about their experience after everyone went home for the pandemic led us to say, ‘OK, we’re doing this, and we’re doing it now.’”


Thanks to the quick implementation of the product, Principal gathered the insights it needed. “It was our triage system,” Petsche explained. “We needed to know how [employees] were doing. We needed to know whether they were okay. And we had to make sure they had what they needed to do their jobs. Thanks to Dialogue, we had an instant understanding of how people were doing, and we were able to share the data with leadership immediately for quick response and action.”

Building on Dialogue

For Principal, Dialogue is a core component of their listening program. “This is what we’ve built upon,” Petsche said. “As things normalized and we started to find our rhythm, we were able to make pulsing the centerpiece of our approach at Principal.”

Hear directly from Carolyn Petsche, Director of Talent Management with Principal Financial

My name is Carolyn Petsche. I work for Principal Financial Group and my title is Senior Talent consultant, but my role is to lead our Voice of Employee program.

Right about a year ago, our leadership expectations were finally finalized. So answering the burning question that had been in place for a long time of what does success look like? What does good leadership look like at Principal? And as those expectations became more simplified and something that could unite the organization, the next question is, well, how do people develop? Do we show and know where it's working and how do we give leaders the tools for them to be able to increase their skill level?

We've been piloting the Develop 360 platform (now Cultivate), basically since the beginning of the year. So we've completed wave A. We're in the midst of wave B right now, but that's been a really powerful experience for our leaders. Being able to use the Develop platform with the 360 multi-rater capability, now for the first time leaders are getting much more quality feedback rather than more general feedback that comes in around performance management time of, "Here's feedback. Tell me what you think."

The other aspect as we just are in the beginning stages of implementing the onboarding and exit components of Sense. We've stood up back at the end of 2021 in the final quarter, in response to the war for talent, all the turnover concerns generally, and also people wondering how are we doing internally here at Principal? We made our own internal exit survey pilot that we manually created and with some distinct populations. And that went really well, but it's not sustainable for us to look at a spreadsheet like it's 1992 and kind of slice and dice in a way and reading open-ended comments for pages on ends and hoping you find the nuggets.

We are starting the process of moving our pilot from our manual process into the Perceptyx platform, linking it into our onboarding, linking it into our Pulse survey questions, linking it into what we're learning about 360 in leadership development. So that our overarching plan is one that has a hierarchical goal to create our value proposition rooted in who we are, and is that your experience today? And what can we learn all along the life cycle of employees?

The first time I saw the platform, I went back to my leadership and I was like, "I'm like a kid in the candy store." All these ways that you can see things that you could have never seen before in an easy way, and how all of a sudden the data tells a story that by itself, it doesn't. So that's what we're so excited about. For us, it's the power of that that really helps drive decision-making.

Instead of a large annual census survey — which could consist of 30 or more questions — Principal sends multiple, organization-wide pulses to its 18,500 global employees. “In 2021, we piloted this approach, and this year we’ve continued with three pulses of approximately 10 or less questions,” said Petsche.

Taking the Organization’s Pulse

The data-driven insights Principal gathers via Perceptyx enable it to track key performance indicators (KPIs), such as its engagement and inclusion indexes, as well as stay in touch with employee sentiment on timely topics relevant to all. These KPIs and metrics allow a holistic and agile listening strategy rooted in established and trended cultural goals as well as nimble pulses centered on topics where leaders and teams can take immediate action to address challenges and opportunities.

“These additional pulses are rooted in our employee value proposition so we know how the employee experience feels at Principal. Annually, we pulse on consistent questions that, when combined and averaged, give us our engagement and inclusion indexes. While we monitor and report on our indexes each year, this is not an entirely numbers-driven process. Through pulsing, we want to make sure we know what’s most important to employees so we quickly raise up challenges to address and solve. We can also discover problems that require brainstorming.”

Part of the company's communications strategy rests on the insights provided by this regular cadence. “We have a robust communications plan that bookends each pulse,” said Petsche. “Our pulses often inform town halls, leadership forums, and routine leader communications so we create two-way communication methods that help us close the feedback loop. We use Dialogue to deliver on the key part of any listening strategy: are we talking about what’s most important to employees?”


Instant Visibility into the Employee Experience

For Principal and Petsche, Dialogue excels in terms of making responses visible throughout the highly collaborative organization. “There’s no waiting to see results,” Petsche said. “All employees see real-time results as they relate to the enterprise, their business area, and their location. As long as a leader has five or more responses, they can see their team's results as they come in, then use the real-time insights to engage their teams to dig into the feedback.”

This instant visibility proved invaluable at the height of the pandemic when Principal was considering their approach to flexibility. Engaging leaders and employees to share their perspectives through pulsing allowed critical insights to be included in the conversation. “Because we weren’t waiting on an annual survey, we were able to ask whenever we needed about how people are feeling about flexibility, the challenges and opportunities it creates, and how flexibility can best be incorporated into how we work to serve our customers. We know how important flexibility is to employees because we continuously ask, and they have a forum to be able to share.” 

While the Perceptyx solution is easy for employees to use, its real benefits for Principal are speed and transparency, enabled by the choice they made to make data instantly available to leaders and the use of crowdsourcing to include employees in prioritizing top ideas and sentiment for immediate action. “The amount of time that’s been saved from an analytics perspective is staggering,” said Petsche. “There were thousands of hours spent — several months of time — that our own internal analytics team would be working before leaders received their reports, then the amount of time it would take for leaders and HR professionals to do action planning. By the time that was done, the data wasn’t current and people felt they weren’t heard.”

Enterprise Readiness: HR-Enabled, Leader-Led

The data delivered by Perceptyx also informs the operations of the company’s Enterprise Readiness Team. This global network consists of 350 employees, including 27 leads who represent their teams specifically in the area of employee sentiment.

Explains Petsche, “Our Enterprise Readiness Team provides feedback on what questions we’re going to ask, guides and shapes the topics that we should be discussing, and digs deeper into the organization based on the feedback that’s received. Our key objectives are to bring context to the data to help senior business leaders understand their employees' perspectives and to gain quick wins through empowering simple actions to make progress. By having a trusted leader within the business articulate their employees’ sentiments, the urgency and relevance of the feedback feel closer to home. A metric result is only part of the story, and the Enterprise Readiness Team raises up challenges with context that help identify the reasons behind the sentiment. The partnership with senior leaders, the Enterprise Readiness Team, HR business partners, and communications partners helps ensure employees have a voice and leaders can respond to employee feedback with understanding, empathy, and clarity.”

This model — which Petsche calls “HR-enabled, but leader-led” — is possible because Human Resources is no longer the keeper of the data or owner of next steps. Leaders have real-time access to data for their teams. Individual employees have real-time access to their own data as well as other key data points, such as the overall enterprise results and the top 10 answers. “HR facilitates and supports shared understanding, enterprise insights, and incorporating insights into talent strategies, but the business is responsible for understanding and responding to their employees' feedback."


Following each pulse, Principal publishes a summary on its intranet explaining what has been learned about the strengths and opportunities for the organization. This is kept as an enterprise summary, Petsche explains, because leaders have the responsibility of handling more detailed issues related to their areas and teams. “During team meetings, we encourage teams to use Dialogue as a way to talk through their results using the resources we provide. We also have department town halls and leader meetings, but the heart of the conversation rests within teams. Because all leaders and employees have access to the results for the organization and their specific areas in real-time, the follow-up conversations are more focused and constructive.”

The Power of Simplicity

Principal has been able to build and implement this ambitious listening strategy because of Dialogue’s simplicity and ease of use. “One big win for us has been the use of the widget on our intranet site to make it easy for people to take a pulse which has helped us reach an 81% participation rate. It’s easy for people to participate in the pulses, smooth to use, and the fact that we have SSO [single sign-on] for users means no one has to enter any demographic information before getting to the questions. Employees find the crowdsourcing feature informative, and we encourage people to revisit the pulse while it’s open and continue voting.”

Principal, Petsche explains, has gone from a system that was complex and cumbersome to something that’s easy to use. This, in turn, has led the company to pilot other Perceptyx products. The organization’s pilot of the Cultivate 360 Feedback product has been one such success. “This is a new enhancement for us for our entire leadership population. Our previous 360s and evaluation tools were centered on a select group of leaders. Cultivate is for all leaders and is rooted in our leadership expectations.”

Other product improvements are on the way as Principal continues its progress up the listening maturity curve. Until the end of last year, the organization was using its own homegrown exit survey process, but in late July the organization began utilizing Perceptyx’s Sense product for exit surveys. “It was another opportunity for us to see more with Perceptyx,” said Petsche, who believes that the exit survey results will offer more value when they’re integrated with other listening products.

For Principal, Less Is More

As Principal and Perceptyx continue to deepen their partnership, Petsche wants to emphasize the simplicity of their listening strategy — an approach she believes other organizations could benefit from employing. “Dialogue forces us to be judicious in what we ask, which requires us to get comfortable with insights that are a jumping-off point for further conversations, helping us avoid analysis paralysis. Sometimes, when you have less, you can move quickly to what’s most important — responding to the feedback that’s been shared. Leveraging dialogue to get the insights we need has been a step in the right direction.”


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About Principal Financial Group®

Founded: 1879

Industry: Insurance and Financial Services

Corporate Headquarters: Des Moines, Iowa

Employees: 18,500

Revenue (2021): $14.3 billion


Customer Success Snapshot

The Challenge:

  • Deploy a listening solution that would enable Principal® to quickly gather insights across its 18,500-person organization at the height of the pandemic

  • Make data collection simpler and more convenient for employees, and speed feedback analysis for the data analytics team

  • Share listening data and crowdsourced ideas in near real-time across the entire organizatio

The Solution:

  • Launched Dialogue for employee pulsing and crowdsourcing

  • Instantly provided response data to leaders for tactical action planning

  • Used this data to guide Enterprise Readiness Teams to areas of opportunity as well as to corporate communications and executive leadership for the development of on-target messaging

The Outcomes:

  • The combination of smaller, more frequent pulse surveys plus crowdsourcing resulted in much higher levels of employee participation

  • Instantaneous provision of data saved the analytics team considerable time that would have been spent preparing reports and enabled leaders to quickly integrate data findings into town halls and other employee communication channels

  • Enterprise Readiness leads focused on areas of opportunity and facilitated immediate improvements based on employee feedback