Archive for July, 2014

Alignment Solutions Newsletter: Are Your Surveys a Waste of Time?

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

Are Your Surveys a Waste of Time?

Alignment solution: To ensure your surveys are not a waste of time, write questions that provide accurate, actionable data.

Developed correctly, a survey is a very powerful tool for gathering actionable data for a variety of purposes. Based on my experience, however, most surveys are a waste of time and effort for all involved. Why? Because the resulting data are worthless – i.e., incorrect, skewed, and/or not interpretable. In short, they are not actionable. Not recognizing they are working with bad data, however, people take action based on those results. Then they wonder why the initial problem hasn’t been resolved, or why people’s behaviors haven’t changed.

There are easy, no-cost ways to ensure that your surveys result in accurate, actionable data that you can use with confidence to identify effective ways to address the desired topics or issues. As long as you’ve decided to make the effort to conduct a survey, why not write questions that produce usable findings?

Below are three of the most common mistakes I see people making when developing questions for their surveys, as well as solutions for avoiding them. The good news: it doesn’t cost extra to write items correctly rather than incorrectly. So there’s no reason to let these mistakes derail your improvement efforts.

Mistake #1: Requiring a single response to an item that asks multiple questions

Example: “Our staff were knowledgeable and acted professionally.”

Problem: Demonstrating knowledge and acting professionally are two different behaviors. When your question includes multiple behaviors yet requires people to provide one answer, you have no idea to which of the behaviors they are referring. In this example, there are four possible behavioral combinations: knowledgeable and unprofessional, not knowledgeable and professional, knowledgeable and professional, or not knowledgeable and unprofessional. Because you can’t tell to which set of answers people are referring, you cannot identify an appropriate response.

Solution: Write one item per behavior, trait, or result. Although this may make the survey longer, the results will allow you to target your response.

Mistake #2: Asking only global questions

Example: “How satisfied were you with our customer service?”

Problem: Whether the responses are positive or negative, you can’t tell to what aspect(s) of customer service people are responding. As a result, you don’t know what actions must be taken to stop undesirable behaviors or practices or to reinforce desirable ones.

Solution: Ask questions about specific aspects of an issue – e.g., behaviors of customer service providers or the quality of the outcome. 

Mistake #3: Asking questions that require only “yes” or “no” answers

Example: “Are you satisfied with the quality of the service our staff provided?”

Problem: “Yes/no” response options provide very limited information. They indicate only that there may be a problem, and they fail to suggest the degree of seriousness. That is, how strong or weak is each “yes” and “no?” As a result, you have no idea what action to take, or with what degree of urgency.

Solution: Re-frame the question as a statement, and provide multiple response options along a continuum (e.g., strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, strongly agree). This change allows you to specify the behavior or outcome you want to target, and it indicates the urgency with which you must act.

To read about other no-cost tips that will ensure that your surveys are not a waste of time, take a look at my article 26 Insider Tips to Dramatically Increase the Effectiveness of Your Surveys.

To find other articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at and my blog at

Alignment Solutions is a concise, bi-weekly newsletter written specifically to help organizational leaders optimize their business results. Your e-mail address is never shared with anyone for any reason. You may unsubscribe by clicking the link on the bottom of this e-mail.

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© 2014 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Alignment Solutions Newsletter: Business Lessons from a 3-alarm Fire

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

Business Lessons from a 3-alarm Fire

Alignment solution: Your organization’s ability to weather an emergency well depends on the strength of the foundation you have created through your employees.

For millions of people in the U.S., July 1st was memorable because it marked the highly anticipated World Cup soccer game between the U.S. and Belgium. Here in Long Beach, CA, thousands of excited fans crowded local streets and businesses well ahead of the 1 p.m. local starting time to party and cheer for their team. For the Long Beach Fire Department (LBFD), however, 1 p.m. on July 1st became memorable for a different reason: it marked the time of the first call alerting them to a fire at a local business. After assessing the magnitude of the situation, the first units on scene called in a second alarm, followed quickly by a third alarm. In addition to the multiple fire engines, trucks, and ambulances dispatched to the fire, the hazardous materials and search and rescue teams also were summoned as flammable materials fueled the blaze and the roof collapsed.

I happened to be at the LBFD dispatch center that day, which gave me a front-row seat to observe those who choreographed the emergency response. I watched in awe as the dispatchers quickly and expertly directed the appropriate apparatus to the scene, responded to radio questions and requests from the field, sent additional equipment, and re-positioned the remaining fire engines to other stations so that all parts of the city would have some coverage during this incident that suddenly demanded most of the available resources. To the public, nothing seemed amiss: both 911 and non-emergency calls continued to be answered promptly. Even the person who called 911 to demand that a fire marshal be sent to a local bar that was so crowded that she couldn’t get in (!) had no clue that the dispatcher simultaneously was handling the immediate demands of a 3-alarm fire.

Although such emergencies are rare, when they do occur, first responders must be on top of their games in order to prevent a catastrophe or mitigate its effects. Even with single alarm fires, the damage can be alleviated IF both dispatchers and firefighters are properly trained and have the appropriate resources. Whatever your organization’s equivalent of a 3- (or 2- or 1-) alarm fire, here are six observations about how you might apply the lessons demonstrated by this incident:

  1. The successful resolution of an emergency situation depends entirely on the knowledge and skills of the people involved. Are your employees properly trained to handle an emergency?
  1. Having enough people can make the difference between success and failure. Have cutbacks in personnel left your organization vulnerable?
  1. There is no substitute for having the right people in the right jobs. Do you have a sound succession process that ensures you have qualified employees in key positions throughout the organization?
  1. Institutional knowledge is irreplaceable. Do you have a process in place that ensures valuable knowledge is passed on to other employees?
  1. An emergency highlights the difference between employees who are committed and those who are not. Are your employees dedicated to providing professional, seamless customer service regardless of the larger emergency at hand?
  1. Exceptional communication skills enable more effective, timely, and accurate responses. To what extent would your employees’ communication skills help or hinder in an emergency?

Hopefully your organization doesn’t experience many emergencies. When it does, your employees’ abilities to respond effectively will test the strength of its foundation. Being able to address the above points positively will go a long way toward making sure you can recover quickly.

To find other articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at and my blog at

Alignment Solutions is a concise, bi-weekly newsletter written specifically to help organizational leaders optimize their business results. Your e-mail address is never shared with anyone for any reason. You may unsubscribe by clicking the link on the bottom of this e-mail.

Click here to Join Our Mailing List! 




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© 2014 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.