Wiki contends that Survey Monkey had 14 million users in 2012. If you are nodding your head in agreement, you won’t be surprised that since its business launch in 2009, Survey Monkey has become a household name. Here at New Directions, we have been conducting surveys for close to twenty years; everything from designing and administering simple 360 feedback surveys to large employee climate surveys and customer questionnaires. And, yes, we are one of Survey Monkey’s 14 million customers – using their application for simple surveys as well as our own survey site for complex or highly confidential assessments, and a strong advocate of data-based decision making and problem solving.
But if you are one of my survey clients, you also know that I ask some critical questions before I hit the “send” button on a survey project. Here’s a few I’d like to share with you:
1. Is the information you are gathering going to have an impact on the final decisions you make? Please don’t solicit opinions from stakeholders when you don’t intend on using the information. Asking for their participation gives the feedback providers the impression that you will use their opinions to make/change decisions or improve a situation/solve a problem. Also, beware of instances where you don’t have the power to affect any change. Don’t waste people’s time or set up false expectations – it will end up hurting your efforts in the long run and certainly for the next survey launch.
2. Do you need to gather the information? If you already have recent sufficient data to use, don’t just survey for the sake of surveying. Ever heard of or experienced survey fatigue? It seems that you can’t go anywhere these days without being asked to participate in some type of survey. Some of us have gone beyond the need to give our opinion and now only want to take the time to participate if the survey has some meaning to us or there is a real need present.
3. What did you do with the information from your last survey? Organizations need to communicate back to those feedback providers a summary of the data as well as how it was used to make decisions or improve a situation or product to encourage future participation. If you are continually asking for feedback but don’t let participants know what happened to the last piece of information they shared, don’t be surprised when your response numbers start falling or your feedback becomes less valuable.
4. Are you willing to hear what is being said even it doesn’t support what you think to be true? Some folks want to use surveys to substantiate their own opinions and really aren’t interested in gathering real data. Questions can be formulated to encourage a certain response. Data can be discounted if doesn’t support a popular belief. One participant in one of my recent workshops told me that data can be found to support any position you want to take if you don’t scrutinize carefully the methodology, number of participants, or type of feedback provider. If your survey results tend to get the sarcastic response of “what did you think they were going say?” it may be time to evaluate your process and questions.
5. Is there any history of retaliation from survey participation? In the worst case scenarios, people who offer negative feedback in a survey are identified and suffer some ill consequences as a result. Here, fear will spread like wild fire and you can be sure that your future surveys will lack participation, honesty and credibility.
Experts have estimated that adults in the USA make approximately 35,000 decisions each day. Some of those decisions involve a simple and quick process while others require much deeper thinking and analysis. Done well, surveying is an effective tool for gathering information that can absolutely aid in problem solving, employee development, strategic planning and decision making.
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