Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Stop Guessing - Ask Them!

At one point or another, we consultants have used surveys as part of our consulting toolkit to assess needs around a business problem. Once we identify the needs, we are able to prescribe a solution.

Recently I conducted a survey among the members of TVCNet. I was thinking about the results I received and how I would use the data as I plan out the remainder of 2007 for the organization. I'm glad I conducted the survey because it gave me a chance to learn more about the needs of the membership and how I can help meet those needs.

Conducting the survey among the TVCNet membership was far better than speculating. When we do that we often get ourselves into trouble. Most of the time we underestimate or end up focusing on the wrong things. When I was a student at Boise State attending for my master's back in the late 90's, I remember one of my professors in a learning theory class say, "Stop guessing what is going on inside their heads. If you want to know, ask them!"

I've conducted many surveys in my career and here are some things I learned over the years that will help you improve upon your survey technique and keep things in perspective the next time you intend to use this form of assessment tool.

  • Be objective. Start with the end-goal in mind. What is it exactly do you want to learn from the survey data? State this clearly and make sure all of your questions address the objective and your end-goal.
  • Questions that are quantitative are easier to analyze and recognize patterns or trends than questions that are open-ended or qualitative.
  • Keep the survey short and to the point.
  • Give participants options for responding. Folks will most likely choose the easier method, but options are always good and help with the response rate.
  • Don't be surprised that you have a response rate of 10-15% - if your lucky!
  • If someone has an axe to grind, you'll know it through the survey responses.
  • If someone has a highly favorable opinion, you'll know it through the survey responses.
  • If someone is indifferent, you'll probably not hear from them.
  • Incentives don't necessarily increase response rates, but they're not bad to include with surveys. It gives the fence sitters a reason to participate, but keep it modest. Incentives shouldn't be construed as a bribe. You don't want to bias your results.
Surveys can be a valuable tool for consultants if they are built objectively and distributed with the intent to uncover needs around a business problem. Some clients may be apprehensive toward using surveys because they are afraid of the feedback they might receive. If so, I always say it's better to learn now than to find out at in inappropriate time or when it is too late.

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