Great comment, Mark (no surprise).
Abstractly is a great way to characterize the mgmt. view of employees in a large, diffuse organization (and to a certain extent, I’m playing devil’s advocate above). As you say, it’s far more efficient to paint in broad strokes for managers than in fine detail. Some of this will never change so long as senior leaders don’t walk into every employees cubicle (being “close”, as you say) and tell them what’s happening.
And as a data guy, you know that you have to be very careful with results from surveys like these: they are NOT facts or the truth. They are the answers that best represented the feelings of the respondents at the time to the multiple choice questions that were asked. That’s an awful lot of extenuating context.
However, part of that “something missing” is urgency — managers can’t do a quantitative check in every 6-12 months, analyze the data 8 months later, and say “We did what we could.” That’s not true; there are several ways (short web polls, idea sharing/voting, town hall meetings, blog comments, etc.) to get input on a regularly basis and then paint broad strokes with that feedback.
The burden on managers is to look at that feedback and say to employees, “Ok, here’s the picture I think you painted for me. And here’s my response.” Rinse and repeat.
The way I try to characterize the goal of such feedback and communication is to be thorough enough that no one can claim “no one told me” unless their intentionally out of touch/being contrary. And for those (hopefully few) folks, sometimes you just have to move on.