Surveying? Avoid the Pointless Hamster Wheel

Avoid Pointless Feedback“You can survey this…or you can survey that….Or you can survey this…or you can survey that….”

Surveying is part of nearly every modern corporate culture.  It’s like we have a bunch of overweight hamsters running around singing….You get the picture.

With my background in organizational psychology, I am asked to review and provide feedback to countless iterations of survey instruments.  Honestly, it’s a service I rather enjoy.  It gives me the chance to not only provide worthwhile inputs to what can be a wonderful or painful learning experience for an organization.  It also gives me the chance to educate on appropriate and inappropriate uses for surveys and ways for gathering data.

Most often, there are several tidbits I can routinely share with mad surveyors (and not the kind hanging out in their blaze orange vests on the side of the freeway).  Typically, these tidbits are shared in the following appreciative inquiry approach:

1)   Help me understand the purpose of your survey and why surveying is the best method for gathering the information.

2)   What do you intend to do with the results?

And most vitally…

3)   What will you do if the inputs you gather put you or this company in a negative light?

One of the most important planning elements of any data gathering effort is to ask these three questions.  But don’t just ask them.  Make sure you commit to the answers.  Publicize all of it, both in the communications that accompany the survey itself and in any other way you make the organization aware of your efforts.

It’s a simple matter of accountability!  I know…the dreaded “A” word.  Trust me, it will be worth it in the end.  Not necessarily easy in the end, but worth it, for sure!

I was recently approached to give my opinion on a fantastic corporate attempt to build on internal social media interactions.  For all company-wide messages, employees could give the ol’ “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” to express either satisfaction or lack thereof to the story.  Additionally, individuals were given the opportunity to provide open-ended comments, but thus far only positive comments had been made.  That’s fantastic, right?  Well, truth of the matter is that a fair number of employees were giving “thumbs down” to reported information.  I would guess the ratio of positive to negative “thumbs” was 2:1.

I was asked by a thoughtful colleague what I thought about requiring individuals to identify themselves when they gave the ol’ “yay” or “nay” to a message.  I stifled a horrified “NOOOOO….,” but after having caught my breath, I reflected on this a bit more.  My answer didn’t change, but my response was probably a little more politically acceptable.

You see, if no one will tell you what’s wrong w/o guaranteed anonymity, you already have your answer!  Only with trust will you garner the kind of open and honest feedback (with true transparency) that will allow you to dig deeper into organizational issues.

Whether surveying (which incidentally should be far down on your list of “best practices” when it comes to collecting data, I feel) or leveraging the latest in social media, leaders need to actively nurture openness and honesty in order to get truly useful responses.  Not simply by saying you want honest answers, but by showing OVER TIME that constructive criticism (dare I say, respectful negativity) is both acceptable and desired.

When trust exists between all layers of corporate hierarchy, data collection (survey, focus group, anonymous or identified social media feedback) becomes a valued commodity.  When trust doesn’t exist….tread lightly, my friends.  Tread very lightly….Beware the hamsters!

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