on Polls

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” ~ Bill Gates (b.1955) co-founder of Microsoft

Well, it is that time of year again. Something the stupid politicians in DC did went amuck and we the American public are now submitted to a barrage of polls and surveys in order for them to supposedly get an idea of what the American public thinks about it. While I am all for politicians seeking ways to get a feel for what their constituents want, does anyone truly believe that they pay attention to polls conducted by anyone other than their supporters? Are these not just a means for them to either justify their actions, rest upon the idea that a “majority” of Americans are on their side, or intimidate those that disagree with them into silence? Depending on which media outlet you watch, the poll results don’t seem very consistent, which leads me to believe that the raw data itself was slanted in order to ensure a particular result.

The business world also does polling, but for a completely different reason. Rather than being used solely as a form of personal puffery or a marketing tool, true business leaders use polling and surveys to determine those areas where improvement is necessary. Unlike the monopoly that is government, businesses have competition, and in order to survive they must care about what their customers think, so a slanted survey would benefit them little in the long run. Customers will go where they are treated best, and share that personal experience with others, no matter what a company sponsored survey says. Good companies know that it is better for them to focus on the negative data, rather than the positive, in order to know what areas to target for improvement and stay competitive.

The same is true in the IT world of data networking. We too do a form of polling, albeit from the machines themselves, in order to ensure an efficient operating network. Engineers actually pay closer attention to the machines that are not responding, or responding at less than optimum levels, so that we can determine what is needed in order to improve results. No engineer in their right mind would be satisfied with only a majority of the network operating at peak efficiency, let alone 70% efficiency. Like good business owners, we also understand the impact to our overall network if parts of it are either not responding well or not responding at all. If we continue to ignore the negative, ultimately things will crash.

So, I guess when I look at surveys sponsored by politicians or bureaucrats (especially if paid for by taxpayer money), I tend to see the results as an engineer would. Rather than looking at what the survey shares, I look at what it leaves out. For example, the staff at our school recently took a culture survey a week before the superintendent was up for a vote for his contract renewal (interesting timing). While at first blush the results look good, having 0% negative feedback is a statistical impossibility, even in data networks. Therefore, I could not help but wonder the following: 1) Why did 30% of our staff choose not to take it? 2) Since 20% of our staff is new this year, and still in the “honeymoon” stage, were they excluded from taking it to avoid skewing the results? 3) What online controls were in place in order to avoid multiple answers by the same person and truly protect anonymity (like asking staff to not use school computers when answering)? 4) When group interviews were done, what protections were in place in order to prevent peer pressure or possible retribution for negative feedback? 4) Why wasn’t any feedback sought from the 20% of staff members that left last year, or the 3 folks that have already resigned this year?

In order to improve, both good businesses and engineers honestly look at what makes either people dissatisfied, or a network not function well. Unfortunately for us, those in government rarely think like good businessmen or engineers. So with no agenda other than the success of our school, I am doing a poll of my own. Teachers, parents and students: send me your stories of frustration (please do not use your school email or school computer) and I will compile them for a future article. Your identity will remain anonymous and confidential. Only with some honest sunshine can we fix that hitch in our giddy-up.

“Employees will only complain or make suggestions three times on the average without a response. After that they conclude that if they don’t keep quiet they will be thought to be troublemakers or that management doesn’t care.” ~ Peter Drucker (1909-2005) Business Guru, Author, Professor of Business

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