Leaders Consider the Source

When you survey people, formally or informally, beware this common trap:

All responses are equally credible.

Leaders can get distracted when looking at customer surveys, or employee engagement surveys, based on their own frame of mind at the time. Sometimes, we’re looking for the best, perhaps for reassurance, or to confirm our own biases. In those cases, we disregard the negative and focus on the positive, assuming that those are the people who really “get it.”

Other times, we see a few negative comments, and dwell on those too much, because we’re obsessed with fixing everything we can control.

Both of these approaches can be affected by our own mindset. We as leaders know this, so to counter that approach, we decide to look at all the information objectively and treat all the responses equally. Sounds reasonable, right?

But that’s also a mistake.

Look at the results as a whole, yes, but consider the source for extremely positive or extremely critical feedback.

For example, you see that a few people check a box for “Strongly Agree” on the statement “Communication with my manager is a problem.” Before reacting, look at the whole of the results for that individual. See if you can discern the context from their other comments. For example, when responding to “What other issues do you face on a day-to-day basis that you wish we know?”, you see these responses:

“Parking policies are stopid. thursdays are a slow day and we should be able to park where we want and i’m sick of Alicia telling be to park in the back”

“I appreciate the way Alicia sets up weekly one-on-ones with all her directs; I just wish that we kept those appointments every week. Sometimes they get skipped or postponed, and I have to find a new way to get the inputs I’m looking for. I understand her demands, but just wanted to offer my perspective.”

See the differences in these responses? They’re night and day.

Once you take the “Communication with my manager is a problem” in combination with other responses, you can start to see which surveys to take more seriously, or less seriously.

In leadership, we sometimes tick people off. That’s inevitable. Use surveys to make sure you’re ticking off the right people.

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