No Matter How You Look At It

Lately I’ve become almost militant in my opposition to surveys.

“Why such a strong anti-survey stance?” you ask. (Thank you for asking by the way.)

Because too often I see people trying to find the picture of reality within the survey, but then never doing anything with the reality they find.


Let me explain in pictures.

Here are three different ways to look at the same scene.

If I asked you to find the similarities between the shots, you’d probably start with the fact that all three show the same key features, two people and a dog.   The shots all look like they were taken on the same day and at the same location too. (September 20, 2003 and Maple Loop Pass in the North Cascades, if you’re curious.)

Yet, given those similarities, if you’d only been given the first shot you may have thought the people were sitting on a river bank, not a mountain top.  You can only really see the mountain once you compare the first to the second, yet both are off in their coloring of the natural world.  You don’t get the real sense of the scene until you discover the natural colors in the third shot which captures a breathtaking day on top of the world.

These photos are like surveys, especially overlapping concurrently run surveys that are common in large organization when every change group wants to get the “real” pulse of the workforce.

Each survey picks out key features of the reality of the moment.  Each shows you the essentials.  Yet, each is just a partial picture of a reality that has passed.  The picture (or survey results) are worth looking at, if you want to remember that moment, but they don’t tell you what to do in the present.

You can look, and look, and look at the photos and they won’t tell you how those people and their dog are today.  Your survey results aren’t going to do you any better.

The challenge isn’t how to design a better survey or analyze the data better.  The challenge is what are you going to do in the present with what the survey is showing you about the past.

No matter how you look at it, the present and the future are where you can make a difference.

So, pick out the highlights in the picture or from the survey and then quickly turn your attention to the present and the future.

Ask and answer the question, “Now what?”

That’s the way to start driving change.

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