- Leandro Herrero - https://leandroherrero.com -

The focus on the annual Employee Engagement/Satisfaction Survey as the climax of organizational understanding is both absurd and lazy.

If you are in the consumer behaviour field (marketer, researcher, advertising expert, brand strategist) you will not work with just a single set of data, analyse it, and draw immediate consequences and actions.

In the political marketing/campaigning field, continuous sampling takes place, forming an ongoing picture of people’s attention and vote preferences. Ongoing.

Martin Lindstrom has made a compelling argument to use ‘small data’, not Big Data, to understand what’s going on in the consumer brand arena. (‘Small Data. The tiny clues that uncover huge trends [1]’. 2016) His work is clearly one of the anthropologist (he is not), looking for clues and spotting details; in fact, he is fixing his attention on ‘small data’ in order to build a picture and extract the real insights.

In the entire above context, you can see the absurdity of the annual Employee Satisfaction/Engagement survey when conducted as the only source of ‘data’ to understand what is going on inside the organization. Nowhere else do people have a one off survey, no matter how big, which dictates what to understand and what to do. Not in social sciences, not in political sciences, not in brand strategy, almost nowhere else. Just in ‘the organization’. Are we that lazy?

I can hear people saying that, of course, this is just a tool, a set of data, and that it has to be interpreted in the context of everything else, for example what (performance) management perceives, etc. And that is my problem, that it doesn’t. Any other ‘context’ goes out of the window once ‘that survey’ is launched. Weeks later, all processed and translated into appropriate multi-coloured charts, that data will become ‘the data’. And in that Big Context, ‘small data’ is lost.

You would have thought that, the anthropological/ethnographic/small data approach, sits naturally in the life of the organization. But that takes time and effort, attention to the signals, sensing the environment and high emotional and social skills. Answering my own question above, yes, we are lazy. Our internal segmentation is poor if not close to zero, other than the ‘people performance’ segmentation.

Organizations that, perhaps, for the very nature of its business, perform rather sophisticated consumer behaviour outside, are incredibly poor at using similar approach inside with employees. Good external marketing often sits in incredibly bad internal one.

‘Building an ongoing picture’ needs lost of data points, small and big, quantitative and qualitative. But, mostly, it needs to exercise judgement to be able to see and hear and smell.

The dominance of the once a year Survey ritual is absurd.