Survey as Dialogue

Taking a survey often feels like taking a test.  They both follow the same format — a long list of questions requiring you to select the “right” or “best” answer from among several options.  In this way, the survey and the test both reveal what the participant knows; however, they do little to expand the relationship.  I think surveys need be more interesting and stimulating so the participant feels comfortable answering honestly and providing candid feedback.

Surveys need to be a part of the dialogue between the group doing the survey (e.g., corporate leadership) and the community being surveyed (e.g., employees and customers).

What is a dialogue? Simply put, it is a two-way exchange of ideas.  Unfortunately, traditional surveys are more of a one-way street, with information flowing directly from those who are surveyed to those who are surveying.   To truly make surveys feel like they are part of a dialogue,  essential information — background, issues and concerns about the topics — must be covered, plus surveyors must always ask for input.  Such a two-way exchange engages the participant, thereby removing the survey-as-a-test scenario.

Consider a company that is updating employee policies.  A common exercise is to survey employees concerning their views about policy changes.  A typical question might include:

  • Do you support the proposed policy concerning employee vacations?

To make the survey a dialogue, however, it should include information in the form of questions that provide the background and rational for the policy change.  For the current example, respondents might be informed through these types of survey questions:

  • Did you know that last year we lost X% of our clients due to slow responses at certain times during the year?
  • Did you know that during critical periods around the holidays the company was severely understaffed, which slowed our response times?
  • Did you know that the proposed policy would increase opportunities for staff vacations at other times during the year?

Using this method, information flows from the company leaders to the employees through question content. Employees are giving feedback about the current conditions, as well as voicing their opinions about the new policy.  It is also essential that at least one open (written) response question is included, so that employees have the opportunity to express their views independently of the rest of the survey content.  This will further increase the value of the survey and help build crucial relationships with employees and customers.