Keys for New Leaders

SURVEY MADNESS

June 26, 2024 Dr. Charles Boyer Episode 38
SURVEY MADNESS
Keys for New Leaders
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Keys for New Leaders
SURVEY MADNESS
Jun 26, 2024 Episode 38
Dr. Charles Boyer

#038 - SURVEY MADNESS.  You know how it goes - you buy a tube of toothpaste and when you get home, there's an email from the drugstore wanting to know about your experience purchasing toothpaste at their store.  Well, maybe it's not quite that bad, but chances are you get more than your share of invitations to participate in some survey or another.  Aren't there better ways to get the feedback you need without another survey?  Join Dr. Charles Boyer for a look at some possibilities.

Send us a Text Message.

Show Notes Transcript

#038 - SURVEY MADNESS.  You know how it goes - you buy a tube of toothpaste and when you get home, there's an email from the drugstore wanting to know about your experience purchasing toothpaste at their store.  Well, maybe it's not quite that bad, but chances are you get more than your share of invitations to participate in some survey or another.  Aren't there better ways to get the feedback you need without another survey?  Join Dr. Charles Boyer for a look at some possibilities.

Send us a Text Message.

Hello and welcome to Keys for New Leaders, a podcast Serving Leaders Serving Others.  This is your host, Dr. Charles Boyer, but my friends call me Charlie, and that’s most certainly YOU, my friend.  Welcome!  I’m so glad you’ve joined us for this podcast.  Serving Leaders Serving Others is what we’re all about.  In this series of podcasts, my goal is to serve you, the leader, helping you serve others through sharing ideas, helpful hints, suggestions, inspiration, insights, encouragement and sometimes a laugh or two to lighten the load along the way.

This is Episode #38, and I call it SURVEY MADNESS.  I was going to call this episode “Survey Mania” – but “Mania” or “Madness” – take your pick.  You know how it goes -- you buy a tube of toothpaste, and when you get home, there’s an email survey from the drugstore wanting to know about your experience purchasing toothpaste at their store.  Well, maybe it’s not QUITE that bad, but I’ll bet you get more than your share of invitations to participate in some survey or another.  At least I do.  

Here are just a few of the surveys I’ve received recently:  

·      How do you like the paper towels you bought?

·      How satisfied are you with the air freshener spray?

·      Evaluate your visit to the doctor.

·      Tell us about your experience at our bank.

·      How are you enjoying your bag of salted peanuts?

No, I’m not making these up.  These were real survey requests I have received by email, and these are only the most recent ones.  Now ask me how many of these surveys I filled out.  Zero?  You guessed it!  Delete, delete, delete, and done.  Who wants to know all this stuff?  And what in the world does it all mean?  And how likely are you going to respond after receiving that umpteenth survey request this week?  Not a difficult question to answer, is it?

Being overwhelmed by surveys isn’t a new problem.  I ran across several articles from 2015 to 2020 that implore us to “Stop the Survey Madness” or ask “Is It time to Stop the Survey Madness?” and the surveys don’t show any signs of letting up.  They seem to multiply overnight.  Dr. Alan Weiss reminds us that surveys are notoriously weak sampling tools, mostly because the responses come from opposite ends of the spectrum – from those who are very happy with the product or the situation, and from those who are very unhappy.  Responses from the majority in the middle often are missing or under-represented.

Some polls claim a 60% accuracy rate, but that’s hard for me to believe, when a good survey response rate ranges from 5 to 30% of the sample population.  What about the unreported 70 to 95%?

Too many surveys, too many questions, too many poorly designed requests for information can quickly lead to survey fatigue and from there to survey burnout.  And I’m just about there.  How about you?

Now, I need to insert a disclaimer here.  Do I ever use the results of surveys?  Well, yes, I admit that I do at times.  For example, when I am thinking about buying something, I do take a look at the customer reviews – but with a grain of salt, as the saying goes.  When someone rates an electric drill with top ratings and gushy, over-enthusiastic reviews, I tend to not believe a lot of the hype.  Likewise, when someone rates that same electric drill with very low ratings and grumpy comments, I tend to not believe most of that as well.  After all, how gushy can you get over an electric drill?  And if a customer had a bad experience with it, is it really as bad as it was reported?  Probably not, I think.  The answer is likely somewhere in the middle – that middle majority that we usually don’t hear from.

Now, what has all this to do with YOU as a new leader?  Well, at some point, you are going to want – and need – feedback from your team, or information to help you make decisions, or consumer information about your products and services.  These types of information are sometimes hard to get.  So, let’s do a survey and find out what everybody thinks.

Not so fast there, my friend.  Surveys are not easy to conduct, and if you expect to get useful results, your survey will require extensive planning, time and effort.

If done properly, surveys can help you

·      Explore new topics and ideas

·      Understand behaviors of consumers, team members

·      Identify strengths and weaknesses

·      Improve team or individual performance

Surveys can also be costly and unreliable if they are not carefully designed to give you the honest answers you are seeking.  I’m sure you’ve heard of the acronym, G.I.G.O., meaning Garbage In, Garbage Out, or to put it another way, if you ask the wrong questions, you’ll get wrong answers.

If you want to get good, honest answers, there are some careful plans and critical decisions you need to make before you begin to develop your survey.

First, you need a clear idea of what you want to find out.  Exactly what is it that you want to know from your survey?  If you can’t answer that in a few words or a short phrase, keep digging.  You aren’t’ there yet.

Next, just who is it that you want to survey, and how many?  What response rate are you likely to get?  Will you have a large enough sample to get meaningful results?

Then, make your questions clear, concise, without bias, and as few as possible.  More questions won’t give you more answers.  Repeated or follow-up surveys asking the same questions generally get the same answers, or fatigue, or burnout.  Remember, people tend to avoid what they’re hit with.  Keep It Short and Simple.

I wonder how a couple of the surveys I’ve received recently would compare with the above suggestions?  Let’s take a look:

·      One survey was asking how I liked the paper towels I bought.  I was asked to rate my purchase from 1 to 5 stars.  Well, just how nit-picky can you get?  The towels are definitely more than a 1, but are they really a 5?  And is anything less than a 5 a put-down of the product?   Then I was asked what I liked and disliked about the product.  TMI – Too Much Information.  And then, would I purchase the towels again?  Probably, when I needed to mop up something I spilled.  Question – do people really need to know how I valued my paper towel purchase?

·      Another survey was sent – several times – from the medical network, wanting to know all about my visit to the doctor’s office. Questions asked how easy was it to schedule an appointment, was the wait time appropriate, how attentive to your needs were the doctor’s assistant and the doctor, and would you recommend this practice to friends and family. The same questions were asked each time I received this survey, so I gave up answering a long time ago.  They’re persistent, though – I keep getting the same survey every time I visit the doctor.  And I keep giving the same answer - by hitting the delete key.

Are these surveys clear and concise?  Not to me.  Are they well thought out?  They don’t seem so to me.  Are they asking the right questions?  I don’t know – I quit answering.  Are they reaching the right people?  Well, maybe they do.  Apparently I’m not one of them.

Well, enough of my rants.  These surveys must be useful to someone, and it sure must keep some people busy analyzing all the data that are collected.  I wonder where all that information goes and who sees it – or wants to.

Now, feedback is important to good leadership.  And getting that feedback is not easy, especially if you need to gather information and opinions from large numbers of people.  A well-designed survey may be the best option.  Just make sure that survey is well-designed, well-tested, and reliable enough to give you the answers you need. 

If it’s a smaller number of answers you need, there’s a magic three-letter word you can use:  ASK.  Just ASK people what you want to know.  ASK for their opinions, comments, suggestions.  ASK how to improve things, processes, policies.  ASK – and LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN!  And then, be prepared to TAKE ACTION.

It takes a lot to ask for feedback and then to have the intestinal fortitude to receive it openly.  It only works well if you are a leader who serves, and one who has the trust of the team who work with you.  If that is who you are, here are some suggestions for getting the feedback you need from your team:

·      Create a safe, open environment for honest, open feedback.  Assure everyone that there are or will be no repercussions.  This takes time – like building trust and credibility, and it must be nurtured carefully.  Like trust, this open environment takes a long time to build, and only a second to lose.

·      Have a specific point or question that you want to get feedback on.  Ask as specific a question as you can.  This helps get the open feedback mechanism started and helps keep the discussion focused on a specific topic.

·      De-personalize the questions and discussions.  Avoid using “I” and “YOU” in your discussions or in your questions.  It helps keep the finger-pointing and blame-gaming out of the loop.

·      I’ve said it before, and here it is again:  LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN!  There is a good reason why you have two ears and one mouth.  Talk a lot less.  Listen a lot more.  

·      Then, share what you learned from the feedback with everyone on your team.  Only YOU can help make open feedback the new norm.  It’s well worth your best efforts!

Let me ask you a few questions about what we’ve talked about in this episode.  No, this isn’t a survey, just three open-ended questions just for you to think about.  And here they are:

1.    What survey request have you completed recently that seemed to you to be well-designed?

2.    If you were asked to develop a survey, what would be the first step you would take?

3.    What ways of getting personal feedback have been especially helpful to you?

Well, now for that Special Key – and I’ll have to admit that I’m a bit stumped on this one.  There is no Key of “S” for Survey, and no Key of “M” for Madness, but there IS a Key of “F” for Feedback, and that’s really what surveys are all about – or should be!  Let’s all hope for better, open, honest Feedback.  Good luck, my friend! 

Our next episode is about “Your To-Don’t List,” that list of tasks and habits you don’t do or shouldn’t do because they drain your energy and keep you from finishing your “To-Do List.”  Join me, won’t you?  We’ll have an interesting time together, that’s for sure!

Until then, stay safe and well, my friend, and … don’t let the surveys drive you mad.