Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

Posts Tagged ‘Survey Research

Legislating Morality

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Fifty years ago, in 1964, the US Civil Rights Act came into being, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The purpose of the law was to make discrimination based on race, religion, color, national origin, and gender illegal. Other protected classes were added over time, such as age in 1967. Beyond simply making discrimination illegal the legislation was attempting a feat of social engineering, changing behavior. And while one could argue that tremendous strides have been made, make no mistake about it, there is still plenty of discrimination going on today.

But questions arise for those of us who work in the space of behaviors and attitudes. Can attitudes and opinions, can thought patterns and morality be created by legislation?  Does legislation and prosecution for violations of that legislation create morality or only an illusion of morality? And if people are behaving according to moral principles, but in their hearts feel differently, do we care?

While we could argue endlessly whose standards of morality, or which cultures and norms we will accept as “moral”, putting all that aside for a moment, the answer from a social engineering perspective is very clearly that legislation can change behaviors and over time those behavior changes will result in attitudinal shifts. In other words legislation does have the power to affect behaviors, and partly though the power of cognitive dissonance, partly through the power of modeling others in the community, over time thought patterns can be altered. Perhaps not for everyone, and not in every instance, but changing behaviors can lead to attitudinal shifts in a large population.

The attempt to legislate behavior is nothing new, as there were many ancient legal codes aimed at instructing people how to live their lives in an attempt to instill order in society. One well known early attempt at legislating morality occurred under the Babylonian ruler Hammurabi about 3800 years ago. The Code of Hammurabi consisted of 282 laws by which people were to live their lives. Hammurabi’s code was the source of the saying “an eye for an eye”. (“If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out.”) And it is likely the earliest instance of medical reimbursement legislation. (“If a physician make a large incision with an operating knife and cure it, or if he open a tumor (over the eye) with an operating knife, and saves the eye, he shall receive ten shekels in money”). But medical malpractice carried stiff penalties under Hammurabi. (“If a physician make a large incision with the operating knife, and kill him, or open a tumor with the operating knife, and cut out the eye, his hands shall be cut off”).

An even older set of laws, originating about 300 years before Hammurabi, was created by the king of Ur and called the code of Ur-Nammu. Some of those very ancient laws we would recognize today (“If a man commits a murder, that man must be killed”). And some would be somewhat foreign to us today (“If a man is accused of sorcery he must undergo ordeal by water; if he is proven innocent, his accuser must pay 3 shekels”).

And almost 1000 years later on Moses brought down a set of laws from Mt. Sinai which also was aimed at describing to people how they were expected to behave and live their lives, a moral code (e.g. “You shall not murder”).

While there were certainly differences among these legal codes, there were also some very interesting similarities. For instance look across these 3 sets of moral codes, originating thousands of years apart regarding what they have to say about bearing false witness.

  • Ur-Nammu (4100 years ago) – “If a man appeared as a witness, and was shown to be a perjurer, he must pay fifteen shekels of silver.”
  • Hammurabi (3800 years ago) – “If any one bring an accusation of any crime before the elders, and does not prove what he has charged, he shall, if it be a capital offense charged, be put to death.”
  • Moses (approx. 3000 years ago) – “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
  • And today in the USA (18 U.S. Code § 1621) perjury is still a crime – “…is guilty of perjury and shall, except as otherwise expressly provided by law, be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”

Apparently bearing false witness has been an on-going problem since the dawn of civilization or there would have been no need to call it out specifically in each of these moral codes.

More recently the case for legislating morality can be seen with the advent of laws in favor of marriage equality and other equal benefits for the LGBTQ community. In this particular case it seems that the attitudes of the population in general were ahead, and perhaps still are ahead of those in various legislative bodies in the USA. There are of course segments of the population who vehemently oppose equal rights, just as there were those who supported Jim Crow laws in the south. What will likely happen to that group? As LGBTQ rights become more widespread, and people/states are held accountable for violation of those rights, the act of behaving in a fashion supportive of those rights will be seen as:

  • normal – people will want to be similar, including in attitudes) to the vast majority of people they are surrounded by (Paraphrasing Tversky & Kahneman 1974, “People will maintain a belief in a position when surround by a community of like-minded believers”).

And again, potentially not everyone’s beliefs will positively shift in every instance (even among those suffering from cognitive dissonance), but across the larger population continuing shifts in attitudes could be measured.

As an aside, in the world of survey research, once we have reached a 51% response rate, in order to drive additional responses, we use this notion to our advantage, by sending out reminders along the lines of, “the majority of people have completed the survey, don’t miss this opportunity to voice your thoughts”). It works.

Today the US military is struggling with the issue of sexual harassment in its ranks. The military code (e.g. article 93 – regarding cruelty and maltreatment) has various statutes in place by which personnel can face court martial trails for sexual harassment offenses. But the rules have been rarely enforced with harsh measures, especially for those with higher rank. Can the military legislate attitudinal shifts among service members? Can they eliminate sexual harassment by simply telling people “don’t do it”? That is a necessary step. And certainly enforcement must be more uniform across the military and the legislation must be seen as having some teeth. But the military must also build standards of behavior that become “normal” and which don’t include sexual harassment behaviors. Once the behaviors are in place attitudes can shift. If all you do is work on attitudes but the old behavioral standards are still there, the attitudes shifts will not “take”.

Legislating morality is possible, but over the long term true shifts in attitudes can only happen if they are supported by the corresponding behaviors.

© 2014 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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Recognition, Familiarity and Employee Engagement

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“Recognition is based on knowledge, familiarity is based on feeling”

Oliver Sacks – The Mind’s Eye

I was reading Dr. Sack’s latest book over a recent vacation and when I got to this sentence I had to pause for a while and really think about it. “Recognition is based on knowledge, familiarity is based on feeling.” Recognition in this context is being used as when someone recognizes a location, a person or an object. Some people have trouble in varying degrees, for instance, to recognize the faces of people they know. The inability to recognize the face of someone who should be familiar to you is called prosopagnosia and there is a growing body of evidence that the incidence of prosopagnosia in the general population is much higher than previously thought, and that it is based on a normal distribution in terms of severity. This affliction is not binary, you don’t either have it or not, but rather you can have prosopagnosia to varying degrees, as is exists on a continuum of severity.

We all spend our days recognizing the objects, people even the tasks that surround us. For instance, you can recognize a specific person or just some artifacts about the person such as young/old, female/male. You can also recognize the foods you eat, the cars you drive, the pen you write with, or the tasks you undertake to carry out your job. But when those things we recognize seem “familiar”, they evoke emotions or feelings.   I recognize the face of my mother and she evokes certain feelings in me which makes her seem familiar.

Recognition and familiarity are independent and are processed by two different portions of our brains. This becomes evident in people with Capgas syndrome. These are people who can recognize a face, such as a spouse or child, but because the face does not evoke the emotions of familiarity, people with Capgas syndrome assume they are imposters  A man can see his wife and recognize her as being the face of his wife but assumes that it is not really his wife because the face is not evoking the feelings he normally would associate upon seeing his wife. The person must be an imposter!

In the work environment you might recognize a task you have to carry out, but independent of that recognition would be a sense of familiarity that the tasks might generate. You might recognize for instance the steps you have to undertake to perform a tune-up on a car, but it is not until you have done it over and over that the task achieves a sense of familiarity. The same could be said of a surgeon removing a gall bladder, an accountant preparing a tax return, a taxi driver heading to the airport etc.

The question that this posed to me was regarding the measurement of employee perceptions of the workplace. Employees can recognize tasks to be performed very early on in their training for a job. But when does a task feel familiar? And is employee engagement dependent on a task generating an emotional component of familiarity or merely the recognition of the task? Can someone be engaged in their work if the work does not carry a sense of familiarity? We know that normatively the most engaged employees tend to be the ones you just hired, those who would have the least amount of familiarity surrounding their tasks, which might seem odd given the above. And that employee engagement declines, sometimes precipitously at about the 12-18 month mark of employment. It often continues its decline, hitting bottom at the 3-5 year mark, with a corresponding spike in turnover. The 3-5 year mark is also when many organizations report that the employees are really beginning to significantly contribute on the job.

But here is some speculation for you. An employee gets hired, is very engaged from day one, with that engagement being driven by the excitement of a new activity, for some a new beginning. They begin to learn the tasks associated with the job and over a relatively short period the tasks and the work environment begins to generate feelings of familiarity. Short-term engagement, driven by excitement, gives way to long-term engagement, driven by familiarity. At this point the work environment can live up to expectations generating positive emotions surrounding that sense of familiarity, or it can fall short generating negative feelings. And by-and-large it is very difficult for each and every work environment to live up to everyone’s individual expectations, and so the norm on employee engagement is that it declines as people become more familiar with their jobs and often have to deal with the day-to-day frustrations that newer employees tend to be shielded from.

We don’t have to be satisfied with the norm though. And there are certainly benefits to be gained by those organizations who understand how to buck the trend, maintaining or creating a sense of positive familiarity with the work environment as the employee’s experience with and contribution to the organization grows.

© 2013 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

February 24, 2013 at 1:02 pm

10 Common Findings from Employee Surveys

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[tweetmeme source=”jeffreysaltzman”]“The great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities, and are often more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are.”

Niccolo Machiavelli

I sometimes think of my job as holding up a mirror to an organization so that it can see not what it wants to see but what it has to see. While people in almost every organization like to think their organizations are unique, most organizations really fall within a few common patterns, with some nuance, when it comes to employee survey findings. Here are some common patterns:

  • In most organizations there are virtually no differences to be found when the data is cut by gender, ethnicity, or generation. While there are some slight differences to be found, (e.g. females are often a hair more positive, as are traditional part-timers), on organization performance items like customer focus, quality, leadership, communications, decision making, cooperation and teamwork, looking for differences is like searching for a meaningless needle in the proverbial haystack. When differences are seen it is usually indicative of significant underlying organizational issues.
  • The largest differences are most reliably found on an employee survey when you cut the data by occupation or level within the organization. Managers are generally between five and 15 points more favorable (the more senior the more favorable) on survey items than non-managers, depending on the item. They are typically less favorable on customer service/focus, resources and product quality. When the differences are larger it is usually a sign that senior management is living in a different organization than the other employees experience, and that each group would have difficulty seeing the world from the other’s perspective. It is not unusual though for administrative groups to be more favorable than their level suggests.
  • The most favorable group completing the employee survey will very reliably be the employees that you just hired. Specifically, those with less than 12 months tenure. It takes the typical organization about 12-18 months to beat that positiveness out of the new employee. Disillusionment with organizational effectiveness, training, advancement opportunity, pay and other frustrations as well as the sense the organization is not as was advertised, drive the numbers down.
  • The least positive will be those with around 3-5 years tenure and in many organizations there will be a gradual recovery in positiveness over time, but it usually never gets as positive as the newly hired employee was again. A small number of organizations can buck this trend and what they do in order to accomplish that is very interesting.
  • By geography the least positive employees in the world are pretty reliably the Japanese (with a few exceptions). The most positive are those in Latin America and some other parts of Asia (e.g. Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam). The USA is below Latin American, with the UK trailing the USA and continental Europe lagging behind the UK. Russia and the USA look remarkably similar on a large number of items.
  • The best way to predict turnover with an employee survey is by asking the employee directly if they are going to stay or leave. They tend to answer very honestly. If anyone tries to sell you some mumbo jumbo predictive index, walk away. There is nothing better out there than simply asking that one directly.
  • The best way to predict customer loyalty is to ask the employee about whether customer issues are resolved quickly.
  • The best way to predict accidents is to ask about the safety environment and the emphasis placed on safety. Are you getting the idea yet?
  • Employees are generally more critical of product and service quality than your customers are. They see how the sausage gets made.
  • Employee Engagement is no magic bullet and is rarely predictive of many critical organizational performance metrics.

While not every organization out there is as unique as perhaps they think they are, there are certainly some organizations that are performing better than others in various aspects. And there are some organizations out there that could really benefit from a well done employee survey, focused on the right things, aimed at improving effectiveness and performance and monitoring employee sentiment and insight. Sometimes all sorts of excuses are given to avoid having to look at the organization squarely in the mirror. “We just had a bad quarter, or are in the middle of a reorganization, or we are unveiling our revamped strategy and vision, or we are rolling out new products” etc.

Organizations making excuses like that, I would bet, would be extremely reluctant to use those same arguments with respect to tracking financial performance stating, “we had a bad quarter so we are going to skip tracking the financials this quarter. We will start again perhaps next quarter when we believe the numbers will look better.” They simply would not be able to get away with it. If people are truly an organization’s most important asset, as is so often stated, how can their opinions, observations, insights, and emotions be ignored?


© 2012 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

November 2, 2012 at 7:43 am

Sense of Direction

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[tweetmeme source=”jeffreysaltzman”] “You are going to have to help me with this people thing.” That was what the ex-McKinsey consultant turned CEO of a major Fortune company told me years ago. He was the nicest guy. He explained to me how he could handle all of the financials to run his company but this whole people thing, what motivated them, what concerned them, he just couldn’t get his arms around that. He was baffled. What to him seemed like simple business decisions, trim here, reorganize there, in order to fine tune his company’s financial performance resulted in all sorts of emotional morale issues. “Why didn’t people see the obvious?” He thought that there should be no emotions involved in financial business decisions, that if he did what was best for the company, to ensure its survival, that people should not mind (or at least not get emotional about) being moved around like pieces on a chess board, even if it meant losing their jobs. While this company had solid financial performance, it also had a fairly high degree of turnover, with some employees after a pretty short period of time feeling burned out and not being able to continue with the firm. Yet this company also had a high degree of employee commitment and employee loyalty. How was that possible?

I participated in a graduation recently. A group of MBA student’s to whom I taught a leadership class were graduating with their degrees in hand. It was extremely emotional in a positive way for the students, their families and friends that were present. The students were smiling from ear to ear and the parents were beaming. As each student came across the stage, amid the flashing of cameras, I rose shook their hands and congratulated them on their achievement. As each student passed me, I wondered “what direction will their lives now take?”

Sense of Direction. Having a clear sense of direction, a sense of mission regarding what the organization (an organization can be anything from a poker club to a nation state) is going to accomplish, and how people can personally and meaningfully contribute to that goal will affect one’s overall sense of well-being and happiness. It helps to increase a sense of purposefulness which in turn can greatly impact people’s sense of commitment and loyalty to the organization. Most people struggle with this, looking for a sense of direction and purposefulness for at least a portion of their lives, others struggle with this for most of their lives. For the newly-minted MBA’s, they are at an inflection point, where they will be examining the decisions they have made so far and will be reflecting on a host of choices they now have which will affect their own sense of direction and sense of purpose.

For an organization, clarity on this subject allows members to self-select, for if I don’t agree with the goals of the organization (stated or otherwise), or what the organization perceives as my role in helping it to achieve those goals, it is pretty clear, that if I can, I should leave. Over time, with a clear sense of direction (stated or otherwise), what an organization can achieve is a fairly tightly knit core of people who are extremely dedicated, ferociously loyal to helping the organization achieve its goals. And yes, there is a risk that too tightly knit of a group will put goal achievement and gain for this core above all else including societal or customer well-being, potentially bending or breaking various articulated operating standards, societal rules, regulations or laws. An inner core can arise, and as C.S. Lewis pointed out a long time ago, people will do almost anything to become part of the inner circle. As with everything there needs to be a sense of balance, swinging too far in any direction is generally not good for people, the organization or society at large.

Knowing where an organization is going, what it stands for and the values it will employ while getting there can be critical to actually getting there. Each person having a sense of direction and knowing how they can contribute to that direction is a fundamental building block for organizational performance and morale.

One aspect of sense of direction having a positive impact is movement, or the direction of the sense of direction. People tend to get frustrated with stagnation and get unhappy pretty quickly about what is perceived as a backward slide, even if that slide is relatively small and from a very high place or performance level. People notice and feel positive or negatively about the direction things are headed, oftentimes more than the absolute level of the measure suggests that they should.

For instance, as we have measured Employee Confidence over the years, what we see are increases and decreases in Employee Confidence on a national level that are related to the direction of a nation’s economy and not the absolute level of economic performance. Employee Confidence goes up if conditions (e.g. unemployment levels, GDP growth) are seen as improving and it declines if conditions are perceived as dropping, regardless of the absolute levels of those conditions. Employee Confidence can be very high in rapidly developing economies as people feel that conditions are improving and that their economy is on the rise, even if the absolute economic standards are pretty low. Likewise, Employee Confidence can be low in highly develop economies with high standards of living if economic performance is seen as in decline.

As humans, we tend to perceive events and make judgments on a relative basis and not on an absolute basis. What tends to becomes normal is relative to what we routinely experience. But every once in a while we are able change the standard dramatically when a critical mass of organizational members compares what they are experiencing to other extra-organizational standards.

Let me illustrate relative decision-making in a simple fashion. Say you needed a pair of shoes and had your eye on a pair that normally costs $300. You are prepared to spend $300 on those shoes. You open the Sunday paper and see that a store 40 minutes away across town has those same exact shoes that you have been thinking of purchasing for half-off or $150. Would you be motivated to drive across town to buy your shoes at half-price? Many people are inclined to do that. Now say you needed to purchase a new car. You are looking at a car that costs $27,900 at a new car dealer near your house. You are prepared to spend $27,900 on that new car by financing it with the bank and paying it off over 5 years. You open the Sunday paper and see that same exact car for $27,750 at a new car dealer 40 minutes away on the other side of town. Would you drive across town to buy that car? Many would say no. Yet in these two examples in each case the buyer would save $150 on the purchase price. You could use that $150 to purchase the same exact things, regardless of where the savings came from, 2-tickets to a Broadway show (partially obstructed view), or a hot dog at Yankee Stadium. Yet there is a tendency for people to be more willing to save $150 when it represents a larger portion of the purchase price, rather than when it represents a smaller percentage. We make relative and not absolute judgments on how worthwhile the savings are.

The same holds true at the organizational level. If organizational performance is seen as improving relative to where it currently is, employees tend to be more upbeat regardless of the absolute starting level of that performance and if it is perceived as in decline, employee spirits will also be in decline (even if you are still the best in your industry). So how could the CEO I mentioned lead a company that achieved high levels of employee commitment and loyalty, even as people were burning out? The answer is that it was an exciting place to be, they were cutting edge, an industry leader with rapidly rising levels of performance, beating the competition and with a clearly articulated vision of where the company was going.

© 2012 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.
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Naturally Innovative

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“But if you will it, it is not fantasy” – Theodor Herzl

Recently, virtually every organization that I speak with has put innovation front and center as a necessary, in fact imperative characteristic of their organizational cultures. The thinking is clear. In order to thrive in turbulent environments organizations must innovate, must examine the way they do business, update their products and services, and must differentiate themselves in order to outperform the competition. Competition, environmental stress and the need to survive as an organization spur on innovation.

Innovation is often described as coming in bursts, but much more common is the rolling-up-the-sleeves, hard work, incremental innovation, building on other’s breakthroughs, often in a collaborative fashion, that over the long run can radically change the way things work and the products that an organization offers.

It could easily be argued that innovation occurs naturally among all of the earth’s creatures. Species innovate constantly and naturally in the never ending battle to survive. One species of cuckoo finch has eggs that mimic the coloration of another species so that when the finch deposits their eggs into the other species’ nest, the hatched baby birds are raised by the tricked surrogate parents. As a defense the second species, the tawny-flanked prinias evolved more colorful eggs that looked different form the finch’s eggs but the finches responded by evolving and again mimicking the more colorful eggs. Evolution is innovative.

The mitochondria that inhabit our cells and produce the energy which powers cells originated externally from the cells they now inhabit. They have their own DNA and can reproduce only from their own DNA, indicating that they were a separate life form somewhat like bacteria. Prior to their role in our cells they existed independently. Mitochondria entered into a symbiotic relationship with cells and then that combined organism evolved into the variety of cells that make up human beings. Today we would not be able to survive without these creatures living within our cells and the mitochondria would not exist without us. Evolutionary innovation is often collaborative.

Beyond evolving on a biological front, humans evolve and innovate their behaviors constantly if not quickly, with our ancestors developing new forms of stone tools over millennia, fire being tamed, the taking up of living in shelters of one sort or another, and placing metal strips on the teeth of our children to improve function and appearance.

Many of the inventions that propelled our civilization and were described as deriving from “ah-ha” moments were nothing of the sort. Rather the innovative breakthrough came from groundwork that laid the foundation and was then built upon. Basic innovations often sit dormant until additional development work and insights are gained allowing the innovation to be applied in day-to-day life.

Take Edison’s light bulb for instance. It is often credited to Edison as a singular event. And in fact Edison played a very important role in the light bulb, but without the innovations of those who came both before and after him the light bulb would not have become as wide spread as it has. Here is a chronology of the major milestones.

• The first electric light was made in 1800 by Humphry Davy. When he connected wires to his newly invented battery and a piece of carbon, the carbon glowed, producing light.
• Much later, in 1860, physicist Sir Joseph Wilson Swan was determined to devise a practical, long-lasting electric light. He found that a carbon paper filament worked well, but burned up quickly. In 1878, he demonstrated his new electric lamps in Newcastle, England.
• In 1877, Charles Francis Brush manufactured some carbon arcs to light a public square in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. These arcs were used on a few streets, in a few large office buildings, and even some stores. Electric lights were only used by a few people.
• Thomas Alva Edison experimented with thousands of different filaments to find just the right materials to glow well and be long-lasting. In 1879, Edison discovered that a carbon filament in an oxygen-free bulb glowed but did not burn up for 40 hours. Edison eventually produced a bulb that could glow for over 1500 hours.
• Lewis Howard Latimer improved the bulb by inventing a carbon filament (patented in 1881); Latimer was a member of Edison’s research team, which was called “Edison’s Pioneers.” In 1882, Latimer developed and patented a method of manufacturing his carbon filaments.
• In 1903, Willis R. Whitney invented a treatment for the filament so that it wouldn’t darken the inside of the bulb as it glowed.
• In 1910, William David Coolidge (1873-1975) invented a tungsten filament which lasted even longer than the older filaments. The incandescent bulb revolutionized the world. (Enchanted Learning).

Rather than being the exception the “evolution” of the light bulb is very often how innovation occurs with multiple people contributing, often working collaboratively over a period of time.

There are multiple methods available for measuring the existence of innovation in organizations. You could count the number of patents issued to the organization, or the age of each of its product’s since design, the amount of time that employees spend on innovation, the R&D budget, the headcount assigned to “innovation”, or the perceptions of the customers towards the organization’s products and services as being innovative. One method for measuring the degree of innovation in organizations is through the perceptions of the employees.

Employee surveys will often ask about the “emphasis” on innovation within the organization, but I prefer asking about whether innovation is actually occurring. Critical when measuring innovation through employee surveys is to ask about:
• the generation of innovative ideas;
• the ability to test out those ideas from a funding and other resources standpoint;
• the ability to evaluate innovations to see which one’s should be implemented organization-wide and which ones rejected.

Examining or asking about the reward system is also often very informative as an organization may truly desire to be innovative, but is actually rewarding its employees for playing it safe and not trying new things rather than the innovative efforts desired.

Slack and redundancy are two concepts that are also critical to be in place for an organization to successfully innovate. If an organization is being run in such a tight fashion with no slack so that it can’t try new things, because all resources are dedicated to getting the work done the traditional way, the ability to be innovative does not exist. And likewise if the organization does not have the ability to experiment with new methods, while another redundant process is performing in a traditional fashion, the evaluation of innovative ideas and processes will be very difficult to objectively assess.

Organizational innovation is critical and creating organizational cultures that support innovation rather than suppress it is within reach for all organizations.

© 2012 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

Cafeteria Survey

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Say you wanted to do a customer survey for a cafeteria. How would you go about deciding what questions to ask and how to ask them? The cafeteria could be in a school, an office building, a public facility such as a zoo or park, or it could be Horn & Hardart reincarnated. Let’s make the assumption that you are doing the survey in order to help the cafeteria actually improve. In order to accomplish that you need to ask tough questions, questions which will yield mid-range scores against which you can improve and track your progress. In addition you want to ask questions which are related to the outcomes of interest to your cafeteria, such as customer repurchase intentions.

First off you need to understand or define the goals of the survey. It may be obvious or you may need to meet with senior management or the sponsor of the survey and probe about what they view as the most important goals for the survey. It could be issues regarding the quality of the food, the speed of the  service, perceived value, the popularity of the food choice etc. The list quickly becomes very long and hence understanding the goals of the effort are critical to keeping the survey within a manageable length for the customer to complete. (The shorter the better with customer surveys).

Second, great insight can be achieved by doing a few focus groups of various types of customers prior to writing the survey. Doesn’t have to be anything fancy, one-way mirrors and recordings are not necessary. Just have a group of customer sit down, 6-10 at a time, and talk to you about their experiences at your cafeteria. Ask them to list out what they like about the cafeteria and what they don’t like about it and then go back and discuss the list as a group. (Reward them for their efforts.) It will help you zero in on what you should be asking about very quickly. If you have different customer segments, such as a lunch crowd, or a breakfast crowd etc. they could be looking for different things, or have different experiences at your cafeteria, so make sure you run focus groups for these different segments.

An overriding principle if you want people to actually fill out your survey – make it easy for them. Simple questions, simple anchored scales, (I like 5-point scales with an escape), short number of items that focus on the goals and lead to action, simple administration. If you have non-English speakers as customers provide the survey in translated formats. Given the likely volume of customers for a cafeteria, you need not have one common survey used across all customers, but can have multiple short versions allowing you to collect information on a larger number of topics than would be possible otherwise. The survey versions can be linked by utilizing an in-common outcome question.

Broadly, the types of questions you can ask about falls into 4 main buckets.

  1. Transactional questions,
  2. Loyalty questions/Outcome questions,
  3. Brand questions,
  4. Demographics.

Transactional questions: Transactional questions ask about the experience you had while visiting the cafeteria. The transaction could be the current visit, or you could ask the customer to think about their last few visits if you know they frequent the cafeteria often. Sample transactional questions include:

Do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements: SCALE: Strongly agree, agree, neither agree or disagree, disagree, strongly disagree

    • Food
      • The food I received was what I ordered.
      • My food was prepared how I requested.
      • My food tasted good.
      • My food was fresh.
      • My food was a good value for the price.
    • Service/Staff
      • The time I spent waiting in line to place my order was reasonable.
      • Cafeteria staff were pleasant and greeted me as I entered the cafeteria.
      • I received my food order quickly.
      • The cashier thanked me for my business.
    • Environment
      • The location of the cafeteria made it easy to get to.
      • The signs posted in the cafeteria were clear and understandable.
      • I easily found a seat in the cafeteria.
      • The cafeteria was clean and free of unpleasant odors.

Loyalty questions/Outcome questions: These type of questions get at the “feelings” that the customer is left with, after they experience the “transactions”. Did they enjoy the experience, would they come again, would they suggest to others that they visit etc.

  •  Do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements: SCALE: Strongly agree, agree, neither agree or disagree, disagree, strongly disagree
    • Overall, I enjoyed my meal today.
    • I would recommend this cafeteria to others.
    • If the opportunity arises, I would purchase another meal from this cafeteria.

Brand Questions: Brand questions get at the perception of the cafeteria, especially given the other options available to the consumer. They should measure what “concepts” the cafeteria is aiming for. It is a gathering place, a place for fast food on the go, a place for healthy food at a reasonable price, etc?

  • Do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements: SCALE: Strongly agree, agree, neither agree or disagree, disagree, strongly disagree
    • The cafeteria is a good choice for a quick, on-the-go breakfast.
    • Overall, this cafeteria provides healthy meals at a reasonable price.
    • This cafeteria is a good place to relax with friends over lunch

Demographic Questions: These questions allow you to segment your customer population into groups that may have different opinions about the cafeteria. For instance, if in a school do older kids feel differently about the food choices from younger kids, or does the breakfast crowd feel differently from the lunch group etc.

  • How many times have you previously visited the cafeteria in the last year?
    • This is my first visit
    • 1-5 times
    • 6-10 times
    • More than 10 times
  • Are you:
    • Male
    • Female
  • Do you typically visit the cafeteria for: Check all that apply.
    • Breakfast
    • Lunch
    • Dinner
    • Snacks

These suggestions for a cafeteria survey are not meant to be exhaustive and there are certainly other topic areas that you could ask about. For those of you who are learning the ropes of putting together a good survey, this is meant to simply point you in the right direction. Analysis, Reporting and Taking Action on the information obtained from the survey will be covered separately.

© 2011 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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Psychic Wins Multi-Millions in Lottery

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Everyone and their brother is out there trying to make predictions regarding what will happen in 2011. Will the economy improve, will jobs finally begin to appear, will various wars and conflicts resolve themselves, will I get a promotion, will gasoline prices go up or down, what about the stock market, will Elvis put in an appearance, will I win the lottery, etc.?

“Psychic wins multi-millions in lottery.” I am quite certain I have never seen a headline like that. Have you? So if you were truly psychic would you waste your time doing card tricks in a lab, or spend time predicting another’s future on some side street in a second floor walkup shop or would you go for the gold, so to speak? Why waste time providing services to others if you could truly predict what was going to happen?

Why are hawkers of get rich quick schemes not getting rich on their own schemes, but are getting rich by getting others to buy into their schemes? Was P.T. Barnum right? If I could truly buy foreclosed houses and sell them for tremendous profit, why aren’t you doing that yourself rather than trying to convince me to give you my money for your secret to success?

If genius stock brokers are so good at making money, why do they need my money? Why is it not a full time job just managing all the gobs of money they are making for themselves?

I was doing work for a large Fortune 50 company. They had assembled a cross section of consulting firms to tackle an issue they wanted researched and resolved and I was invited to participate. One of the other consulting firms kept vigorously pressing their solution as the one that would resolve all of the client’s business issues, all they had to do was adopt it and pay them a lot of money. Success was guaranteed. The very large and extremely well known firm that was so strongly promoting their concepts was on the verge of bankruptcy at the time. I had to ask, in as gentle way as I could, why weren’t they employing their own magical solution in order to save their own company. I mean if it was good enough for their clients why aren’t they taking their own medicine?

As a teaching assistant in grad school, I had a question posed to me about Nostradamus that has bothered me enough that 30 years later I still remember it. A freshman student asked me if I believed in the teachings of Nostradamus. I immediately responded in the negative without giving it much thought. I knew who Nostradamus was, but my tendency was to dismiss such nonsense out of hand – it was not something I wasted time upon. The student then followed up with “Have you ever read Nostradamus”? I had to answer that “No, I hadn’t.” (I also have not read Scooby Doo or Josie and the Pussycats). Then came the obvious next line – then how can you dismiss it?  I needed to have a more thoughtful reply rather than simply dismissing what to this student was a real belief. I am still kicking myself for not having a better reply handy with perhaps some facts and figures. The issue is that you can’t possibly have facts and figures at hand to reject every charlatan’s claim as there are simply too many charlatans with false claims out there. In order to deal with the flood of claims you need to develop your own heuristics that allow you to evaluate the claims one at a time in a logical fashion.

The bottom line though is that if these kinds of approaches did not work with at least some regularity with people and organizations they would no longer be used. The fact that they are not that hard to find in our day-to-day world means that they do in fact work often enough that the perpetrators of these solutions/hoaxes continue to use them.

There are a few factors that make us susceptible to these come-ons including a human’s tendency towards biases, such as confirmatory bias (accepting only information that confirms your existing beliefs and rejecting information that does not), the bandwagon effect (a desire to go along with the crowd, to fit in by believing what others believe). There is even a bias that you have, which makes you assume that you are less biased than others (well of course you don’t have that bias, only others), along with a host of others. There is also a human tendency to assume intelligent cause of an action. So that noise in the woods is more likely to be assumed to be a bear rather than just the wind, which has obvious survival benefits. And the human tendency to want to believe in higher powers, that someone at the top of the organization (no matter the size) knows what they are doing, can give the fortitude to persevere in the face of adversity. Of course each and every bias which developed because of its survival benefits also has a downside, and can make us susceptible to manipulation by others.

Any researcher, who regularly peers into datasets to read the evidence of what is contained within, must remain cognizant of the potential biasing and other factors that can cause misinterpretation of the evidence at hand. Any decision maker who understands the factors that can influence their decisions, is on a path towards making better decisions. And any person who can evaluate information coming at them from a evidence-based basis is more likely to steer clear of charlatans. Try this next time you walk into a psychic’s shop. When the proprietor asks you what they can do for you, ask them why they don’t already know.

© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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