Social entities of almost every kind operate based on communication, more specifically the communication of relevant information. However, in order to communicate relevant information, and affect meaningful change, progressive organizations know that asking strategic questions is crucial. And honestly, who doesn’t want to be “progressive”?
While business leaders typically solicit information through strategic questions, the format of how these questions are asked vary. We normally ask questions in three different constructions; tests, surveys, and interviews. Each format delivers something very different and, each have their own pros and cons. To be most effective, it is important that we understand the differences in what their purpose is and how to leverage it.
Tests are directed at employees and other stakeholder for understanding whether they know or not. Tests allow organizations to qualify, rank, or educate.
Surveys ask stakeholders what do they think. Surveys are flexible, simple to create and administer, and require limited resources.
Interviews query people/stakeholders/employees on what do they know, the why behind something, and how issues can be solved. They are more resource intensive, but provide deeper insight.
As we can tell, there is a time and place for each format. However, a majority of organizations have historically tended to rely on the first two formats of questioning. Businesses are fast realizing that the heavy reliance on tests and surveys have cost them actionable insights! Tests are mere instruments for the identification for the level of skill or knowledge and surveys for the most part provide shallow data rather than valuable information.
The real problem starts when people use surveys in places where interviews should be! Too often, maybe always, surveys are the instrument of the creator more so than an instrument of insight. Today’s “talking heads” use data to prove their point or perspective. The story, based on data in the form of ranking or scoring, becomes interpretive. Imagine the difference in interpretation of the same data between opposite sides of political pundancy?
If leadership is truly interested in insights, ideas, and solutions they will make the investment in interviews. Whether administered by consultants or in-house resources, genuine interviewing of a defined population is about ideas, discovery, engagement, and empowerment. While big data and algorithmic quantifications have allowed us greater optics there is a strong wave of research being written today around “Thick Data“.Thick data supplements big data in order to provide context and insight. Every number has a story just as every person has a perspective.
The investment of time and resources in interviews may be high but so is the ROI in terms of value. Our company, 9Lenses, built a solution that automates interviews and uses digital dialogue to navigate business challenges. Rather than letting numbers be interpreted, the unstructured data of comments, perspective, and solutions write the story and validate the numbers.
Another peripheral value is in the engagement participants feel being asked what do they know, and how issues can be solved. There is definite element of employee empowerment that happens through the more intimate interviews versus what they feel with tests or surveys. There are no lack of articles on survey fatigue or tests missing the mark, and yet they overwhelm us; from stepping off the airplane or checking out of the hotel, or email solicitation it never seems to stop. The end result is we feel disconnected with the opportunity to share in-depth insights that can make a difference to the status quo.