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Fancy surveys don’t help if you aren’t asking the right questions

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There is a restaurant where I live that slips your check into a fancy journal so you can write comments while you pay the tab. It’s a clever marketing trick but not a great way to generate authentic feedback on what could be improved upon. There is something about being handed the nicely bound journal that makes it seem rude to write unflattering comments which other patrons and your server sees.

We’ve become so used to generic comment cards and satisfaction surveys that ask us how our experience was. While I adore reviewing aggregate data collected from multiple choice questions (54% think it is great and 34% don’t care), it doesn’t help me better understand someone else’s perspective so I can improve their experience.

We judge organizations, committees and teams by a combination of their products/services and the overall experience they provide. People are most likely to speak up when there is a significant problem, not a minor inconvenience. Most folks don’t mention the little things because they seem insignificant (at first). Unless there is a meaningful opportunity for people to provide insight into their experience, you may continue to struggle with why customers don’t return, employees don’t strive for excellence or members are apathetic.

Don’t ask survey questions if you don’t care about the answers

The magic question (below) generates very useful feedback which can have a ripple effect across your group. Be warned, if you make a point to ask but then never follow-up or make improvements based on feedback your group will lose credibility that is hard to regain.

You get what you ask for in surveys so ask carefully

You generally find a ‘general comments’ question at the end of surveys as a catch all where you write whatever didn’t fit in the other questions. Because it is so open-ended it generates a wide range of feedback that is hard to categorize. In order to extract a useful glimpse of other people’s experience, be sure to ask this question: “What small things would improve your experience with ___?” If you ask this consistently, you will learn a lot about the minor inconveniences you unintentionally cause your stakeholders.

Surveys are just your starting point

You can generate a lot of anecdotal feedback with surveys and interviews. However, you then must analyze that data to make sure you can identify what are the real shortcomings versus isolated incidents or complaints from the perpetually unhappy. Feedback must be analyzed and weighted within the context of other information such as aggregate responses, documentation reviews, etc.

The little things that bug us today can become the reason we quit or justify a lack of interest/involvement down the road. It may seem insignificant at first when you read comments like “You don’t enforce your own parking rules” or “the bathroom isn’t very clean” or “meetings are boring.” But I assure you – these insights are opportunities where a little effort can go a long way.

Update: The restaurant above went out of business.

About Megan Wilmoth

Megan Wilmoth is the president of Planosaurus, a women-owned consulting firm that helps organizations eliminate the common threats to collaboration they affectionately call Organizational Monsters so that projects, programs, boards, committees, and teams can consistently achieve collaborative productivity. With twenty years of experience, she has provided a wide range of planning and management services to organizations ranging from Fortune 500, large and medium-sized companies, trade associations, non-profits, and government agencies. She is fueled by quality coffee and the opportunity to make the thankless job of managing collaborative managers easier.

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  • Megan Wilmoth,
  • November 3, 2013

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