It is no secret that the maritime business is very fond of measuring: We simply love benchmarking, KPIs, assessing, getting scores, monitoring, comparing. Therefore, surveys based on questionnaires are very popular and a frequently used method.

As a Green-Jakobsen consultant I have been part of developing a large amount of surveys for our maritime customers. And I understand why surveys are popular: you get input from a lot of people in a short period of time, and it is cost efficient. When developed and used right, surveys hold potentials for supporting change processes.

However, there is a trap – a survey trap!

In this article, I will explain why you can get caught in the survey trap, and how to avoid it. I will also discuss what surveys can (and cannot) do in improvement processes. Finally, I will show how our Safety Delta process is an example of a process design that can help you avoid the survey trap.

If survey is the answer, what was the question?

When our maritime customers want us to make a survey for them, we always ask them why they want to make a survey? Or as the CEO of Green-Jakobsen, Erik Green, would ask: “If the survey is the answer, what was the question?

If the survey is the answer, what was the question?

As a consultant it is interesting to observe the many different reasons for making surveys: Some want to gain more knowledge about a subject/trend before making a decision, others want to confirm or disconfirm certain assumptions, and yet others want to use the insights to push their own agenda or strengthen their position in the company.

A quick analysis reveals that most of our customers’ reasons fall under what we call ‘we-use-survey-as-input-for-improvements’ category. You know you fall into this category if the reason why you do the survey is something along these lines: “then we know what to improve”,  “then we know what we can become better at”, “then we know in what direction to move”.

But, be aware that being in the ‘we-use-survey-as-input-for-improvements’ category, also means that you risk being caught in the survey trap.

Watch out for the survey trap

The survey trap is when you believe that making a survey automatically leads to improvements. This implies:

Focusing only on scores, data and numbers, and not on taking the initiative to follow up with improvements
Focusing too much on benchmarks “how the others are doing”, and less on what you as a company want to achieve
Reducing employees/people to numbers and scores, forgetting how to actually motivate and get them on board the change and improvement initiatives
Focusing only on the data or insights that confirm everything is okay, and disregarding data suggesting change and improvements

Here is an example: If your company has issues with engagement among employees, you fall into the survey trap if you believe that making your employees answer an engagement survey will make them feel more engaged. What matters is how you use the survey afterwards.

Before looking at tips on how to escape the survey trap, I would like to take a step back and look closer at how the ‘we-use-survey-as-input-for-improvement’ category relates to surveys.

Why do we use surveys?

For people wanting to make improvements and positive changes in their organisations, surveys are a very useful tool, however it has its limitations.

It is evident that we get a lot of positive and useful data and information when using a survey as an input for improvements. But – we need to find a way to handle what we don’t get.

We need to find a way to handle what we don’t get

A way to do this, and hereby to overcome the survey trap, could be to design (and follow) a process that ensures the insights from the survey are discussed, development initiatives are defined and carried out.

Design your improvement process

In Green-Jakobsen we see the value that surveys add to improvement processes: They can help us gain knowledge and insight about a specific topic before we decide what and how we want to change and improve. And often the survey results prove to be more valuable than expected, as they enlighten us about areas and useful details of the subject, that we had not anticipated.

They can help us gain knowledge and insight before we decide

Therefore, when we develop surveys, we make sure to design a process around the survey ensuring that the insights will be discussed and actions can be taken. A good example is the Safety Delta process.

When designing Safety Delta, one of the big challenges was to prepare a structured process that could contain both measurement, discussions of results and improvement actions – which could all be carried out on board.

The result was the 3-staged Safety Delta process: It ensures that insights gathered via the Diagnosis survey are discussed by crew in the Dialogue stage, leading to improvement ideas that can be carried out in the Development stage on board.

What was the question, then?

Finally, I think it is fair, if I now try to answer Erik’s question: If survey is the answer, what was the question?

Well, I guess the question could be: What could I include in my well-designed improvement process to ensure that the improvement initiatives we take are based on useful and relevant insights about the subject we wish to address?

Need help?

Contact us for personal advice

Ida Krogh
Ida Krogh
Consultant
Copenhagen

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