When was the last time you read an article praising annual employee reviews?

Chances are, it's been a while. Most organizations now realize that assessments of employee satisfaction should occur far more frequently than once a year. 

Asking How You Are, More Often

One company trying to make this happen is TinyPulse, which was recently profiled by Sharon Florentine in CIO. Here's how it works: Through an email with a unique link, TinyPulse anonymously asks your employees one question at a time, at least once a week (you can decrease the frequency to every other week, if you like).

"Most companies do [performance] reviews once a year, but businesses change more than once a year," says TinyPulse founder David Niu in the article. "You don't check your finances once a year. You don't evaluate your business strategy just once a year, so why do we put culture and people and their engagement and satisfaction last?"

The single questions TinyPulse asks are "open-ended enough that employees would easily be able to answer them and provide additional feedback, but also [targeted] enough that HR and management could hone in on trouble spots and actually fix them," Niu says.

What's especially helpful for HR purposes are the specific questions TinyPulse uses. They reminded me of the 12 statements Gallup uses to determine employee engagement. They're great to print out, put on your wall, and ponder every day, as a litmus test of your company's culture.

In that spirit, here are seven questions you can use to gauge how happy your employees are. The first three come from CIO's article about TinyPulse. The other four come from other sources, as noted. The key, with all seven, is to make sure you're getting honest answers from your employees (anonymity helps). And to make sure you're asking far more freqently than once a year. 

1. Name one process that, were it eliminated, would make you more productive. This is a straightforward bureaucracy-buster. You know that if several employees cite the same process, you've hit on a source of serious frustration. 

2. How transparent is management? It's not to imply that you have to tell your employees everything. What you're trying to assess is whether employees feel surprised or blindsided by your decisions--or if you're inconsistent on big-picture topics. 

3. Please rate the quality of the snacks in the kitchen. This may seem frivolous, but it matters. Niu told Florentine that he asked it to TinyPulse's employees, and he learned that none of them liked the brand of pretzels he'd bring in every now and then. "In and of itself, that's not a huge issue--but if you're in management, and you don't know these things, big or little, how can you fix them?" he says.

4. Can you list for me the factors that could contribute to your doing the best work of your life? This question comes from Dr. John Sullivan, an HR thought leader and former chief talent officer for Agilent Technologies. Sullivan notes that this --the "best work of your life" question--is the No. 1 retention factor for top performers. 

5. Can you highlight any recent recognition and acknowledgment that you have received that increased your commitment and loyalty? This question also comes from Sullivan, courtesy of a superb article on TLNT. The aim is to identify actions that make employees feel appreciated. 

6. How would you assess your opportunities to grow and advance? There's plenty of evidence that a lack of advancement opportunities--or better advancement opportunities, elsewhere--are why employees leave. Two-time founder Jason Lemkin stresses that finding a growth path for all employees is one of his five biggest lessons learned, when it comes to retention. Likewise, in a recent LinkedIn survey of more than 7,500 employees who'd recently left their jobs, respondents cited greater opportunities for advancement as the number one reason they took new gigs.

7. How confident are you in the leadership of this organization? In the same LinkedIn survey, the number two reason respondents chose their new jobs was "better leadership from senior management." Beyond the retention benefits, learning if employees lack faith in your leadership can only improve your performance as CEO.

And if you get depressed reading such employee feedback, don't worry: You're not alone. Paul Spiegelman, founder and former CEO of BerylHealth, admits he's felt the same way. The secret? Make something happen. And then watch as employees improve their responses, once it's clear that you actually act on their feedback.

"Asking for feedback is only one third of the battle," he writes. "If you ask, you better be accountable and be prepared to assign resources to the project."