So we’re now in a countdown to the moment when the good people of England vote on whether they want to stay in or leave the EU. There’s a difference between what the polls say will happen and how the odds are stacking up in the large betting companies. How can this be so? Who is right? After the polls were so wrong ahead of the last UK general election, can we put our trust in them? On the other hand, do we trust the methodologies of commercial betting companies who need to make a buck or two?
Of course, each side of the campaign claims it is winning even with many days to go, such is their desire to convince the public that their way is what everyone wants. But politicians are not alone in their seemingly myopic reading of the facts. Leaders do it too. And a lot. I need more than two hands and two feet if I want to count the number of times I have been told by a CEO or senior leader that the data from the engagement/ opinion/ change survey “must be wrong” just because it didn’t fit with their world view. Responses have included: not wanting to believe that employees didn’t agree with their strategy for the company; or finding it too challenging to hear that people didn’t think the leadership team were aligned; or being in denial that employees didn’t rate their leadership style or effectiveness. I’ve heard all kinds of reasons why the data just couldn’t be right ranging from the wrong timing of the survey, to data being tainted by another (negative) organisational event or because the local business head was unpopular, and even that cultural differences meant that the data couldn’t be relied on. It’s the leadership equivalent to “the dog ate my homework”.
In situations like this, trying to argue against someone’s world view is pretty difficult. When the survey is a one-time event, whether it’s annual, quarterly or some other period, leaders can always find a reason for the data to be wrong. But when data is collected on a continuous basis from employees who are engaged in the process, and when there are continual feedback loops from the questioning back to employees, the quality of the data just can’t be argued with.
When leaders are able to get real-time feedback on their communications and their efforts, it’s pretty difficult to argue with the results. Equally, when leaders know that their people are engaged in the process of giving feedback – shown by high participation scores and the quality and relevance of the data collected – they find it difficult to argue with the results. Getting leaders used to receiving and acting on quality feedback from their people is at the heart of trust in organisations. It’s authentic and it makes a difference.
We would recommend ditching the big organisational effort that lands once a year or quarter and move to a continuous, real-time dialogue with employees. Software that’s great to interact with, that gives feedback to the respondent as they go along about what others think and feel (without influencing them, of course!), and that is built in to the change process, can do just that.
As a Cherokee saying put it: “Pay attention to the whispers so you won’t have to hear the screams”
1 June 2016