Why Surveys Fall Short For Business Predictions

What are the limitations of the traditional survey? We think you will be surprised.

In Geoffrey Moore’s recent LinkedIn post he brought to light the limitations of the traditional survey. He said most companies at $5 billion valuations have between 9 and 14 layers between the lowest level and the CEO. It’s generally assumed that in these companies there is a ratio between 1:5 and 1:20 managers to employees, which means about 80 percent of respondents to any survey are not managers.

Surveys often position themselves, typically with the help of publicists, as being indicative of the future. “This survey is predicting a trend that will soon sweep the business world,” or so the thinking goes. But if 4 in every 5 people responding to that survey are not decision-makers, then how can this be true?

Moore argues, it’s not true. 

Let’s use the technology adoption lifecycle as an example. If most of the respondents are indeed followers, then most fall into the early majority or late majority of policy and planning adopters. That’s after the “chasm,” which is the most valuable part of this chart -- and the one that businesses need to cross to get towards scale and widespread adoption.

Because of this, a survey cannot really predict anything about the future. If you send out a consultant-led NPS survey that took six months and tens of thousands of dollars to put together, it might not even reflect the big picture of your organization. However, it’s very probable that it would reflect the moment in time you chose to send it out, and how the employees were feeling at that specific moment. Surveys are snapshots in time.

At best, traditional surveys offer a firm grasp on the present. 

Consider this analogy using social media as a relative comparison. Imagine a snapshot in time that floats by your Facebook feed. You can see that during this second in time your friend was happy. You think how nice it would have been to be on the trip your friend attended or have eaten the meal they enjoyed. What you don’t know is the few moments before the image and the moments after. It could have rained or the meal might have been tasteless. Your information is like this. Surveys only serve as a snapshot in time. They’re essentially curated and not trend-predicting.

So, what can be done? What is the mechanism for regular feedback to eliminate the “moment in time” problem?

At Waggl, we believe that the answer is frequency. You need to see where people stand on issues, topics, and ideas frequently, to truly get an idea of where people stand and therefore be able to predict the future.

We call these frequent short pulses “Waggls.” They are more predictive of the future because their consistent nature helps draw a picture of people’s adjusted thinking over time, which can be extrapolated out to the future. It is an ongoing conversation where users can vote up the best ideas. With Waggl, organizations have access to qualitative, open-ended questions that provide real transparency into important issues.

In summary, don’t disregard traditional surveys. View them with interest, but don’t take them as a prediction of the future. Consistent feedback done properly (i.e. Waggl) can help you determine real-time human thinking and help leaders identify and respond to business issues. If you’d like to learn how Waggl could work in your organization, schedule a demo today!