Getting Answers Without Making Enemies

Back in my management salad days, we had a manufacturing engineering rule that stated, “Any new paperwork/procedure has to directly benefit the person who does the work.” This put some pressure on management when we began to add quality control processes to assembly line jobs. Anytime we wanted to add an inspection, a check box on an inspection form, or a self-monitoring quality control chart to an assembler or technician’s job, we had to find a way to prove to that person that we were making their job easier, giving them more control of their work, and/or upping their value to the company (making it possible for them to make more money).

I get reminded of this requirement every time someone sends me a SurveyMonkey link. Most recently, Google sent me a link to a 3-question about the effectiveness of AdSense, Google’s blog page revenue generator. That pretty much fits my rule. I make a few dollars every month from my blogs and optimizing that revenue would be important to me if that revenue were a critical part of my family income. It took a few seconds to complete the form and, hopefully, we both got something out of the exercise.

On the other hand, an organization that my wife and I occasionally participate in sent us a survey about a change in the organization’s leadership. While there was no indication of how many questions I’d be asked, after a page of questions I realized I wasn’t committed enough to having my voice heard to waste any more time with the survey. I made it far enough to get to the second page, looked at the repetitiveness and irrelevancy of the questions and bailed out. Back in my academic days, I created a collection of surveys for the faculty senate and administration and I made an effort to be concise and user-friendly. I am perfectly happy to be out of that business, though. Doing that kind of work in a poorly managed environment is a wrestling match between the control freaks and the information collectors. I’m only interested in the information and did everything possible to ignore the control freak requests.

Some questions are more complicated and absolutely require more questions: the Myers-Briggs Personality test or the Political Compass analysis, for example. Otherwise, if you can’t get the answers you need in ten or fewer questions, you need to think harder about what you really need.

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