How We Do It
We offer custom, cost-effective solutions to support your data collection projects. Do-it-yourself and off-the-shelf solutions seem helpful, but come with hidden costs, challenges, and limitations.
At each of four stages of a survey or assessment project, our expertise, service and technology will help you acheive you surveying or assessment goals, while exceeding your expectations. Scroll down to learn about the steps to a great data collection project and how we help.
Design & Deploy
Every project should begin with the end in mind. Describe clearly the change you desire in your organization or individuals, then build a plan and tools to get data to guide and energize that change.
With us, your survey or assessment is always...
- Custom: Your questions, your way, your branding.
- Timely: Your business moves quickly – so do we.
- Cost-effective: Custom service for the cost of off the shelf.
Questions like these may help…
- What do you hope will change as a result of the survey or assessment?
- Why does that change matter - to the business, stakeholders, potential respondents, you?
- Who can tell you what you need to know to make decisions or take action related to that change?
- What can they tell you?
- How will you use the information they provide?
We help by offering advice and suggestions informed by 20+ years supporting projects like yours. Your needs and situation are unique, but there are pitfalls and blind alleys that are all too common.
On-line data collection gets you more data for a smaller investment. But, any survey or assessment still takes time and money. Often overlooked in budget calculations is the time needed to achieve your goals. Be sure you have a handle on your time-related expectations of…
- Stakeholders assisting in design or action taking.
- Respondents to complete your survey or assessment.
- Individuals or teams acting on survey information.
- Managers or supervisors held accountable for related change.
Much of this time is hidden when you use DYI or off-the-shelf solutions as internal staff spend time learning new technology or doing unfamiliar tasks when they should be doing other valuable activities you hired them to do.
We help by taking care of the technical and admin details of these projects on your behalf. We'll give you a budget estimate and suggested schedule you can count on, then our experienced staff will get things done quickly and correctly, while your staff stay focused on their real jobs.
You need questions that suit your goals and audience. The most common question types are…
- Rating: using a scale to have respondents report agreement, satisfaction, importance, frequency, etc.
- Ranking: asking respondents to order a set of items by preference, importance, impact, etc.
- Selection: having respondents choose multiple items from amongst a set of possibilities.
- Comment: seeking text responses to open-ended questions in order to explain, expand, share observations, offer advice, etc.
- Drill-down: following up on a response to seek clarification, assess impact, ask for suggestions, etc.
We help by offering technology with 35+ question types to collect both quantitative and qualitative data. Our templates available in core areas of our consulting practice (i.e. leadership, followership, engagement, team or board assessment) can be adapt to a model or framework you suggest, or will do some research with you to find suitable references.
And, even experienced survey developers can benefit from having a 3rd party review their questions. We’ll use our expertise and objectivity to help you avoid four common questioning pitfalls…
- Confusion: Your questions must be understandable to respondents, free of jargon and seeking just one answer at a time.
- Bias: You don’t want to be leading or prejudicing responses.
- Fatigue: Survey or questionnaire should be considerate of respondents’ time and attention span.
- Miscommunication: Your questions and related correspondence should communicate clear and positive messages about the survey itself, and your organization.
We really help here - this is our core offer. About 48 hours after your final questions is in our hands, we’ll have them transformed into an on-line tool for data collection. We work with to test these tools, ensuring they function as expected, are easy to use, and represent your organization well. As needed, we can also help with translation (support for 64+ languages) and accessibility issues that might challenge your respondents.
Our data collection tools are available to respondents 24/7, and easy to use on a desktop computer, tablet, smart phone, or embedded in your organization’s web site. We can even provide paper and pencil formats and related data entry, if you like.
When respondents encounter your survey or assessment, they have a decision to make: “Will I respond?” Among their considerations is whether the survey comes from a credible source, someone they trust with their responses. A world of junk emails and internet scams has put everyone on guard.
Branding your survey or assessment is critical to putting their minds at ease. Put your organization’s identity upfront, presented in a professional manner, to inspire respondent confidence and increases response rates.
We help by ensuring your data collection tools feature your…
- Logo – or other identifying images familiar to respondents.
- Colours – to highlight create interest without jeopardizing clarity.
- Style – (e.g. fonts, layout) consistent with your organization’s on-line presence.
- Invitation – welcoming respondents in your name so they know they are at the right place, responding to your request.
- Promises – clarifying commitments to respondent privacy, anonymity, or confidentiality, as appropriate.
No sense asking questions if your target audience doesn’t respond. For your investment in data collection you should get both a high quality and a high quantity of data.
With us, your survey or assessment is always...
- Convenient: Easy to use tools are available 24/7.
- Productive: High response rates with quality data.
- Secure: Data goes only where it should and stays there.
Among your first questions should have been, “Who has the information we need?” Then, there are practical concerns – data collection can be costly. More people is generally better, but not always necessary.
In a survey project, sampling your population may make more sense from a cost and time perspective, while getting you data that is as valid and useful for your purposes. Getting the sample right is a technical subject we can help you through.
For a 360 assessment, the number of respondents is not as important as having enough responses from different perspectives to give the individual being assessed a full picture of their behaviour or impact, as seen in others’ eyes. Our custom assessments allow you to group feedback providers any way you like. And, we’ll work with you to develop appropriate privacy policies to ensure respondents have a reasonable expectation of promised anonymity.
We also help by offering an email invite process and on-line tools that keep your data collection costs very low on a per respondent basis, much lower than traditional paper and pencil approaches. And, when respondents complete on-line, their data is immediately in our system, saving data entry costs and potential errors.
Respondents to your survey or assessment are sharing valuable information, and may feel at-risk when they do so. They should feel their efforts will produce meaningful results, and that any promises made to them in the process (e.g. anonymity, follow-up) will, in fact, be kept.
Consider pre-survey/assessment correspondence to address these issues from…
- A senior leader or sponsor to clarify purpose.
- Project committee or HR to explain the process.
- Local management to express support, promise time to complete, or clarify follow-up plans.
- In a 360, the individual being assessed to personally request feedback.
We help by offering templates for respondent communications to share your purpose, promises and process with respondents.
Your response rates will improve if you make the invitation to participate personal for each potential respondent in your survey or assessment. Each personalized invitation should include…
- The respondent's name;
- Your organization’s name;
- A clear request to participate;
- The deadline for responding;
- Your promise of anonymity for them; and,
- Straight-forward instructions.
We help by personalizing every email invitation to respond with the respondent’s name and individualized instructions to build their confidence in the process. Because we are an arms length, 3rd party in the data collection process, respondents generally feel more comfortable dealing with us than they might dealing with staff seeking their opinions from inside your organization.
Our back-end process also allows us to connect any demographic data you provide about respondents with their responses so we don’t have to ask respondents for more personally identifying data. That saves them completion time and allaying any concerns they might have about confidentiality.
Response rates suffer if your respondents can't access your survey or assessment, or have problems using the data collection tool.
We help be making your survey or assessment will be available on-line 24/7, whenever respondents have opportunity and interest in participating. Our user interface is easy to use, so help requests from respondents are infrequent, but our friendly, professional staff are always available to help out. If you do anticipate problems with a specific question or the technology, we can use “tool-tips” and other support tactics to offer helpful “how-to’s” in our on-line tools or invitation emails.
Throughout the data collection period, our staff monitor completion rates, reporting them to you at regular intervals, even real-time if that is helpful. We can pinpoint data collection problem areas, then proactively take action with you.
As the data collection deadline approaches, those who have not completed their responses are emailed gentle reminders (no more than 2 in most cases) and offers of help to ensure every respondent has an opportunity to respond.
We help by ensuring our survey platform is world-class. Your data is stored on redundant servers, protected by leading edge firewalls and security scans. Data is backed up daily and stored securely off-site in case of an unexpected disaster.
Rigorous privacy policies are in place to maintain the confidentiality of your business information and anonymity of individual respondents, as appropriate. Any personal or contact details provided to complete our work with you is only used for that purpose, held in the strictest confidence, and deleted from our system after use.
Analyze & Report
Data only becomes useful in the hands of decision-makers and action-takers who understand what it means and appreciate what should be done about it. Get it to them quickly and in a useful form.
With us, your survey or assessment data is always...
- Practically Useful: Rather than simply "statistically" valid.
- Turned Around Quickly: Into the hands of action-takers.
- Confidential: Honouring your commitments to respondents.
Any time you ask questions, you create a sense of anticipation among those you ask. For some, that anticipation is ambitious – they can’t wait to see what happens next and how they can get involved. For others, it feels more like anxiety – they worry what will happen, and how it might harm them. Reporting back as soon as is feasible sustains momentum for action, while defusing concern for negative consequences.
It does take time though to fully understand and really appreciate what your data means. It is also advisable in most cases to hold off on reporting until your path forward is somewhat clear – the first question you’ll be asked is, “What next?” Sharing a reporting schedule up front helps to keep expectations at bay. An interim report may satisfy for a time. But, the faster you get your data out there, the sooner the right things can start to happen.
We help by turning basic or repeated reports around in as little as 48 hours from the end of the data collection period. Deeper, more sophisticated analysis may take a little longer, or cascade out of your follow-up conversations with respondents. We’ll work on your schedule to keep things moving.
Move quickly, but do your reporting right. People won’t act on data if they don’t trust it. Those without the expertise to assess the technical credibility of your data often base their trust decision on more basic cues, how a report looks and feels. You can help by ensuring your reports are...
- Relevant – with only what the audience needs to know or appreciate to take the actions expected of them.
- Organized – with a structure, index, and headings to guide readers through the report.
- Highlighted – using colour and layout to draw attention to the most critical findings.
- Visual – with charts and graphs to inform and invite reflection on the part of respondents.
- Jargon free – fully explained, with language appropriate to the audience.
- Objective – reporting interpretations or recommendations so they can be heard, in a non-judgemental, direct manner.
We help by by providing reports and professional presentations customized for each of your audiences, each with a clean, concise layout, free of errors.
Any change, whether organizational or individual, involves various stakeholders with differing roles to play in change, therefore different data needs. Target your analysis and reports for different stakeholder audiences…
- Executive summaries that highlight trends, illustrate issues with high level numbers and curated comments, share conclusions, and make recommendations for their support of needed change.
- Overall reports for mid-level leaders who need top-line averages, comparative data for groups, teams or demographic identifiers, and verbatim comments so they can prioritize areas of interest then focus resources on needed actions.
- Breakdown reports for team leads and individuals, showing just the data and comments for their group so they can see what needs to be done, and are inspired to take it on.
- Raw data files in various formats for support groups like HR to conduct in-depth analysis as needed.
Clear, concise and relevant are the keys to practical reporting. Asking these questions can help…
- What change are we expecting?
- Who will be involved in that change?
- What decisions or actions do we expect of each of these individuals/groups?
- What data should they have to do what we expect?
- What else should they know to use that data appropriately?
We can help build reports that facilitate action. Frankly, we’re not “stats geeks”, not that there’s anything wrong with those who are. We just think data analysis and reports should facilitate action for change, rather than seek to prove something statistically.
Think of surveys and assessments as conversations to answer the questions you had when you started the project. Rather than set out to “prove” something statistically, seek to fully understand and appreciate what your respondents are telling you by....
- Further exploring the concerns, opinions and assessments of respondents;
- Gathering their suggestions for improvement;
- Measuring the strength of their opinions or depth of their concern to separate priorities for action from what is trivial;
- Uncover possible cause and effect relationships, sorting problems from symptoms.
Complete understanding requires ongoing dialogue, checking back and asking follow-up questions. The survey or assessment is probably not the end of data gathering. Focus groups, one on ones, even further surveying may be needed. As you work toward action-taking, do so with an open mind, constantly testing your assumptions and confirming your conclusions with respondents.
We can help by...
- Building drill-down paths into your data collection tools to pursue deeper, more specific responses.
- Sorting data by demographics and other relevant respondent characteristics to highlight differences among various groups.
- Highlighting variance and anomalies in the data.
- Offering quick follow-up surveys to check conclusions.
Different organizations, teams and individuals have differing expectations or desires for anonymity. While some are quite comfortable with total transparency, others would be devastated to see any of their responses attributed to them.
Take a position on anonymity consistent with the goals of your project and culture of your organization. Communicate a clear anonymity promise upfront to respondents, then honour it. We will as well.
You still need to share data appropriately with stakeholder audiences. For quantitative data, where respondents have been asked to assess or rate, average individual responses over larger groups. In a 360 assessment, we’ll work with you to set a minimum number of respondents for group reporting. Data from groups where the response is smaller than that number can be folded into other, larger groups for reporting.
For text or comment responses, the most basic protection is to never attribute these responses to an individual. Even without attribution, verbatim comments should be shared only where there is a real need to know exactly what was said. Everyone writes “with an accent”. Report readers invariably speculate about who said what based on quirks of grammar, phrasing or spelling. They won’t know, and are often wrong, but the speculation alone can set your project back.
In a staff survey, best practice is not to publish verbatim comments in public reporting. Instead, use edited excerpts to illustrate key points. For a 360 assessment, we recommend comments be treated as personal feedback, only to be shared with the individual being assessed, and perhaps a trusted boss or coach.
You might wonder why we don’t simply edit or summarize comments in all cases. We’re not in a position to understand the specific content, context or potential implications of what your respondents have to say. We believe decision-makers need to hear respondents in their own words as much as possible. As needed, we can help you curate and categorize large sets of comments to identify trends, draw out themes, or illustrate key findings.
Rule number one of every survey or assessment should be: “If you won’t act, don’t ask.” Even with the right data, change can be difficult. The quality of your leadership will be tested.
With us, your survey or assessment can be supported by...
- Quality Debriefing: Get key messages and insights out.
- Change Management: OD consultants for 30+ years.
- Coaching: To help change leaders build their own capability.
The sponsors of your data collection project start with a purpose, a clear statement of “what” they hoped to accomplish and “why” that mattered. With data in hand and understood, they should go back now and think realistically about their priorities going forward. Whether organizational or an individual improvement is the goal, you can’t change everything, not all at once. The right priorities will balance two things…
- Value – serving the interests of critical stakeholders; and,
- Capacity – the capability and resources available for changing.
For each priority, define a clear path forward, an initial plan you can share with others that includes…
- What – the goals to be achieved or desired outcomes. Show them where you’re headed.
- Why – the change matters, the value pursued or consequences to be avoided. Explain why you, and they, should care.
- How – the next steps to be taken, behaviour expected, and resources available. Ask them to do what they can to help.
- Check – metrics, measures or indicators of achievement, with realistic targets and milestones. Prepare them to see progress.
We suggest you set your sites initially on 90 days out. That’s close enough to create a sense of urgency, while sufficient time to accomplish something meaningful. In our busy environment, with all the distractions it offers, sustaining focus and energy for change is often harder than deciding to change.
Strategy, systems, and structure are the programs of performance; people are the programmers. If you want your organization to change, people need to change. People must choose to change – you can’t change them. When they are not ready to choose, they resist. Resistance emerges in many forms, from active revolt, through malicious compliance, to absolute passivity.
Eﬀective change leaders strike at the roots of resistance, at the beliefs and feelings people have about the needed change and how it will affect them. These leaders engage people in choosing to change by offering…
- Connection – to the forces driving change, honest, direct communication about why change is needed, even if it is bad news.
- Clarity – specific, meaningful goals to be achieved, with the immediate next steps to be taken.
- Consideration – careful, respectful listening to fully understand the concerns behind resistance.
- Capacity – access to the resources, capability and authority needed to do what needs to be done.
- Community – connecting people with others involved in change so they can share experiences and lessons learned.
- Conviction – inviting others to choose while the leaders themselves take the steps they ask of others.
Top leaders are important players in and change. You need them setting priorities, communicating key messages, putting resources in place, and holding others accountable for action and results. But don’t overlook front-line leaders. They have direct access to people at the working end of an organization, day to day interaction with those who need to be on-board for any change to truly take hold. Give these leaders what they need so they can to use their influence to guide and inspire action.
Organizations and individuals don’t change quickly. You have to keep doing the right things long enough for new behaviours to become habits, for new ideas to be accepted as common sense, or for cultures to embed new values. Even those who choose to change can…
- Get tired – as the energy of starting, and excitement of early progress, wanes, while the hard work of changing carries on.
- Get lost – in the myriad of competing demands and distractions that draw focus and resources away from the goals of change.
Leaders can sustain momentum for change by…
- Caring for Early Adopters – empowering their choice to move first, then recognizing their progress to encourage others.
- Charting Progress – tracking and communicating a few key metrics so all can share in the satisfaction of achievement.
- Celebrating Successes – recognizing gains made and reinforcing the people who made them happen.
- Positioning Coaches/Champions– especially at the front-lines, close to the action, prepared to support learning, experimentation and problem-solving.
- Confronting Barriers to Change – fixing unhelpful systems, strategies or structures, and challenging people who block progress to get on the path, or go elsewhere.
- Consolidating Gains – solidifying the new normal by, for example, documenting new practices, revising policies, or re-building processes for selection, orientation, training and succession.
Success can be a great catalyst for learning, if you take the time to understand what worked and why. And, no matter how good your intentions or strong your plan, breakdowns will happen.
Throughout the change, take time regularly to step back and capture the lessons learned along your path by doing four things…
- Review – Ask, “What’s happening?” Look in particular for successes, setbacks or shifts, where things have changed since you started down the path to change.
- Reflect – Ask, “Why did it happen?” Look especially for faulty assumptions in your original plan, limiting beliefs that fuel procrastination or resistance, subtle patters and trends, or improved tactics and practices that can be used in other places.
- Re-focus – Ask, “What have we learned?” Use your new information and understanding to decide where your attention, time and resources will be best deployed going forward.
- Respond – Ask, “What are the next steps?” Define the specific actions that will be taken to turn your new learning into better results going forward.
Data becomes more helpful when it has context, when you have other relevant data to view with it. For example, a respondent satisfaction level of 7 out of 10 might seem high until you find out the same respondents gave your competitors a 9, or that not that long ago they rated you a 4. Numbers take on new meaning when set among appropriate benchmarks.
External bench marking, comparing your data to the same data from others, is popular and can be helpful. You should be concerned though about relevance or validity. Are they really like you? Does comparison actually tell you anything about your own data and situation? This is especially a problem when you have customized your data collection to get just what you need – there may be no valid comparators.
We believe the best comparative data is your own over time, using data about you in the past as benchmark to evaluate change in the current data. Have you progressed, grown, improved, or have you moved in the other direction? The only way to really know is to conduct the same survey or assessment again, then compare the results. Repetition over time refreshes your view, especially in changeable circumstances. Use it to track gains and keep your action-taking on track.