Another opportunity to share some learning. I have posed this question on a number of forums, to see if common themes emerge, to see what more we can learn, and to allow people to confess to their dumb things! Here is my dumb things for you to learn from, and it would be great if you can add to this research.
“Hmmmm, confession time eh?
I was asked to create a business to business sales experiment for Dixons in Central London. As part of this I needed to recruit three people to form a sales team plus an administrator. I found an extremely capable administrator and two guys who I thought would make great sales people. I was very comfortable with these three appointments. I couldn’t decide who would fill the fourth seat on this team. I came under some pressure to make a decision and with the worry that if I didn’t fill the post it may get withdrawn, I chose the best of the rest.
Big mistake. This guy wasn’t as good as the others, nowhere near. I won’t bore you with the details but I sacked him a few weeks later. I felt terrible because I had tried to fit a square peg into a round hole. It was my fault for recruiting him in the first place.
The rest of the team were a big success. We worked and sold very well together. With hindsight I believe an empty seat would have been preferable to all of us. Including (maybe even especially), the guy I had to let go.
That was a pretty dumb thing, and I’ve learned to work with some great empty seats since then.”
“The dumbest thing corporations do is pretend that “people are our greatest asset” and then abuse the goodwill by cancelling training and development programmes, the second dumbest is to hold meetings from which no actions are taken but to which everyone must attend to hear the new words of wisdom from the newly installed leader of the organisation, and the new strategy.”
Anon – wish I had written it though!
I kicked off a discussion about the hit and hope nature of employee engagement surveys. In summary it’s about why ask so many questions? Are our business leaders that far out of touch that they need to quiz us to that depth?
Jonathan Wilson offered some useful views which I share with you here:
Detailed social surveying produces at least three emotionally satisfying illusions. First is the illusion of activity. Just investing in the survey and getting everyone to complete it is a real activity that engages everyone and takes a lot of time. A survey of 50 questions will probably take a mean of 30-45 minutes to read, answer and submit. In a company of 100,000 people, if 80% respond that means it will takes about 28 person years, or more than £500,000 just to complete, before the costs of processing it.
The second is the illusion of precision. Few people read the small print that shows that any survey is a rough plus or minus estimate with distortions built in. Few surveys will claim retest reliability more than within 5%, 95% of the time. Because they include some percentages, which they choose to show to two or more decimal places, people are misled into thinking they are accurate to two decimal places. Can you measure your own attitude to two decimal places? So do you think they can measure thousands of peoples’ more accurately?
The illusion of precision leads to the illusions of tangibility, grasp and control. We think things we can measure are more ‘real’ than things we find harder to measure. We think we have a better grasp of them and can control them, or at least measure them again.
Other dangerous illusions include a mistaken belief in linearity, that the difference between 4 and 3 is the same as the difference between 5 and 4. On an attitudinal scale of 5, those two differences are huge, the difference between indifference, interest and passionate engagement.
I suggest that every manager should learn and be licensed in statistical literacy before being allowed to take or influence decisions based on survey responses – or anything else actually!
Statistics offer real insights, but rarely answers. Understanding them helps you see the questions better. The challenge is to meaningfully respond to the questions and the challenges they raise. What do you think?