Don’t we all love surveys!

Just recently I was asked to distribute a survey to all of the VANTUG members. It was made clear that this survey was very important by the requester. Being a loyal and compliant :) UG leader I duly obliged, again emphasizing the importance.

OK, stand up all of you who love surveys! OK, don’t all stand up at once! Will nobody standup? These days, unfortunately, we get bombarded by surveys in one form or another. Most of us understand the need and purpose, ie. they might just be a necessary “evil”. After all we all like to be asked and more importantly heard. However, have you noticed that surveys seem to be getting longer and more involved?

Returning to the survey in question, my request engendered something of an outburst along the lines of “you didn’t tell us that it would take so long to do it”. I had to say, “please don’t shoot the messenger!”. I was in no position to intervene in that way even if I wanted to. So what is the point? Well, there are tried and tested ways to do a survey and golden rule #1 is don’t “tick off” your audience. You might just want to go back to the “well”. Part of rule #1 is DON’T make it too long!

It is like the 5 minute phone surveys that you get that last 20. Now I just plain refuse regardless of who it is and tell them that when they start being honest I might just take part. I have had some experience in putting surveys together and even did a little research about it. In my case I even had a captive audience and management support (it was inside a company) but the same guidelines apply if you want meaningful answers. After a certain amount of time most people’s concentration/interest goes and the quality of answers drops dramatically, especially if it requires a typed response. So did you really achieve anything? If you were lucky at best you got “some” useful data but at worst you lost your supply of data!

In my case I was in charge of quality/engineering standards for an engineering company and things weren’t going well – too many costly mistakes. I needed to try and find out why. More specifically the company General Manager told me I had to find out why :). I didn’t just rely on surveys (big mistake). I also did personal interviews and formed a quality committee. It was quite instructive since I don’t have formal quality training. I definitely had a few false starts! Things did start to improve eventually. The majority of people want to do a good/quality job but are often frustrated by the system that they work in and then become disillusioned. Oh no not another survey. We have had those before and nobody ever pays attention. That’s golden rule #2. If you have an internal survey you MUST give feedback to your audience and act upon the results.

Clearly not everybody can take that personal approach and I have no doubt the big survey companies will tell you that they have all kinds of ways of making allowance for every conceivable situation. However, I still believe that Golden rule #1 always applies. What do you think?


Graham Jones
President, VANTUG

Comments (2)

  1. Garth says:

    I agree! I reviewed this survey and after each question I would get more upset by the clear lack of understanding of what each user group does! After about 5 minutes I terminated the survey! This survey had nothing to do with IT Pro user groups! and was designed strictly for “Code Pounders” and their user groups. If you are going to design a survey then it is best to understand your audience!

  2. Adam Cole says:

    Graham, timely advice — thank you!

    I have agreed to create a survey on IT professionalism for CIPS Toronto. Your thoughts on surveys I am sure will be quite useful.

    Perhaps when I am done you would be willing to fill in yet-another-survey? At least now I can promise to keep it short and share the results with you 😉