Whenever managers face a soft issue, there’s a tendency to think that a survey can help by showing what others think on a specific topic. Whether it is a new product idea, the results of a marketing campaign, a change management issue, or simply an aid into understanding a business issue, surveys are often meant to support the decision making process by providing factual evidences. Or at least that’s the idea behind it.
Of course, a well crafted survey will be able to capture what respondents think of every question you pose… But here’s the point: what about the questions you didn’t pose?
Surveys can never tell you what you have never thought to ask. And, odd enough, what you have never thought to as may hide what you really need for your business.
As such, surveys are perfect (and expensive) tools for validating your own thoughts. But they will never get really new ideas or real business solutions. That is why very often survey results carry even more questions than answers: a typical example is employee satisfaction surveys. I’ve seen so many companies investing enormous amounts of money to understand the survey’s results (of course, this added up to the investment already done for the survey itself).
So how to deal with a real burning issue? Incentives the dialogue. It is much more effective to create a dialogue with a small randomly selected group of people (employees for example) then to absolutely match a statistically sound sample of survey respondents. There is nothing as a statistic validation of an idea: anybody can come up with a good bought and a good business solution. And often it is through dialogue and “brainstorming” that these good ideas come from.
So, save yourself some time and effort. Put the last survey project n your drawer for now, and walk to the nearest coffee machine and start talking with some of your colleagues and team members. My experience tells me will have more chances to get real insights then by running any type of survey.