The first step in creating a survey is the most important. At this stage, you must decide who will create the content of the survey. This process avoids two very important pitfalls in survey research: including questions that are not needed, and more importantly, failing to include questions that should have been asked. Both of these mistakes greatly reduce the validity of the survey and directly impact participation and results. There are generally four possible content drivers: management, consultants, employees, or customers.
Management can be compared to a lookout in the crow’s nest of a ship. Management can see to the farthest horizon and from the top of the ship to the deck. But it is impossible, with hundreds or thousands of employees and customers, for management to see everything that is happening everywhere, such as below deck. In many cases, what happens below deck is critical, and it is equally critical that management be made aware of what is happening before it proves costly to the entire ship! So, it is specifically because of management’s blind spots that conducting surveys is so important, and that management not be the sole determinant of the content of the survey.
Outside consultants have little or no intimate knowledge of the Client Organization, so they cannot know the key issues without preliminary research. Many issues are universal to all organizations, but how those issues are expressed within each organization is unique to each, and is critical to the development of the content of the survey. Clearly, consultants should not be the sole determinants of the content of the survey.
The best source of information is employees for employee surveys and customers for customer surveys. The content of the survey should be driven by research, facts, hard data discovered through confidential one-on-one interviews of a stratified, random sample of the target respondents. Interviews will tell us if ‘communication’, for example, is an issue, but also, whether communication is too fast or too slow (speed), too much or too little (volume), as well as numerous other, some unexpected, aspects of communication and how they are working in each organization. This way, highly specific survey questions are selected from the database.
Then the survey serves to quantify to what degree each aspect of each issue exists throughout the organization or customer base. This provides an enormous amount of power to take precise, targeted action, saving time and money.