I appreciate scientific research. I really do. I'm just not a slave to it.
As a longtime intuitive type with a strong bias toward action, I often favor “gut feel.” Does that mean that I ignore the value of data-driven collection of insights or that I'm too impatient to wait for in-depth surveys to yield results? Not necessarily.
In fact, I gained a great appreciation for the value of research in business forecasting from many years in a data-driven digital communication industry that depends heavily on understanding audience insights. Upon completing regression analysis in my MBA program, I could see the value of a strong correlation as a predictor in setting budgets, crafting campaigns, etc.
So it's with sincere due respect to the great value of scientific surveying that I suggest what may seem like “seat of the pants” tactics in connecting with our most important audience – the internal workforce – with informal insight gathering, or, more simply put, opinion polling.
In between employee opinion surveys, strategic communicators still need to keep in touch with their internal audiences. In the digital world, it's even easier to take the pulse of the organization, so there's really no excuse for being out of touch with what the grapevine has to say.
Regular opinion polling is a favorite tactic for many reasons:
- It’s easy. That is, it’s easy to put questions out there and easy to collect responses.
- It’s fun. Who doesn’t have opinions? And who doesn’t want to share theirs? (OK, I concede there may be a few … I just don’t know any of them.)
- It’s strategic.
Or at least it can be … and here's how.
By conducting regular polling on topics ranging from business to pop culture, strategic communicators create both the feel and the reality of inclusion. And informal polling need not – in fact, shouldn't – set expectations of specific actions, as in a more serious study such as an employee opinion survey.
Again, people like to be heard, both individually and collectively, so it only makes sense to set a cultural tone of listening and responsiveness through questioning. Establishing that tone sets up the potential for strategic use of opinion polling.
Let's say you have a policy change pending, one that may have mixed reactions among the workforce. In a fantasy business world, such policy decisions would bubble up from the workforce, be decided by multi-voting among all employees and then popularly-received by all. And they lived happily ever after.
But apart from that parallel universe, let's say the path was slightly different, with the decision coming from the top. With regular polling in place, communicators in the organization have created conditions to use the workforce as a sounding board prior to rollout.
Asking for feedback may actually yield some perspectives that hadn't been considered. Also, introducing the topic to the organization, but not within the context of a “vote,” may soften the impact of a new policy before it's implemented.
That's not to suggest inauthentic messaging that shrouds a decision that is already made. Instead, it's intended to leverage the cultural benefit of a workforce that is accustomed to being asked “What do you think?”
So … what do you think?
(Don't hold back … there are at least two schools of thought on this topic.)
Learn Additional Ways to Get to Know Your Target Audience
Mike Kohler is a member of the online faculty of Purdue's online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 10 course (20 months) and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.