Author: Stephen Smith MSc, WPA head of people & strategy

In psychology, self-reporting is when an individual communicates his or her own behaviors, thoughts, or attitudes. Self-reported data is typically collected in writing, electronic format, or during an interview. Sometimes self-reported data is frowned upon because participants’ answers may be perceived as skewed, either because they don’t remember things accurately or they want to be viewed in a certain way, so they answer in a particular way. However, after thinking more about the value of self-reported data, we wanted to give you some thoughts on why this type of data is not only relevant, but critical in today’s world.

Why We Seek Feedback

From a high-level perspective, seeking feedback, and asking questions is innate to us. It makes us human. After seeing a spouse or child at the end of the day, we often ask how their day was. While we don’t ask for the answer “on a scale of 1 to 5”, it is nonetheless, self-reported data that we are collecting. While your family member undoubtedly has a biased perspective on the events of the day, we balance their feedback with several other considerations and draw conclusions about the stories we are told. We ask similar questions of employees for some of the same reasons we ask our family:

  • We care: We ask because we care. We want to know how a colleague’s day was so we can celebrate wins or help talk through the losses, and when possible, to make things better. The same can be said for collecting feedback for business purposes. When done right (note that this does not include the annual obligatory yearly engagement survey), companies ask questions because they care and want to make things better. If there is an opportunity to make work better and receive higher returns on people investments, leaders often see that business dramatically improves through attraction and retention of talent, productivity and profit (how’s that for a win-win?!).
  • Perception is sometimes reality: We know that pain is relative, experience is subjective, and that both can influence a person’s attitude and behaviors. It is because of this (and a lack of better alternatives as discussed in the next bullet point), that people ask each other about “how work is going” and why a doctor asks about a patient’s pain level on a scale of 1 to 10. Businesses ask about “how satisfied you were with today’s services” or “how likely you are to recommend them to a friend or family” because the perception of customer service, as subjective as it may be, influences a customer’s purchasing behavior, which ultimately drives the success of a business. Similarly, at WPA, we ask employees about challenges so that we can influence working environments and behaviors that drive the success of a business. After all, people are a company’s most valuable asset, right?
  • Lack of alternatives: We like to think we know it all, but of course we don’t. We often have to ask questions because we don’t have other ways to measure or understand an observed phenomenon, even the ones that happen right in front of us on a daily basis. Industries will try to throw technology and measurements at a problem without fully understanding the question that is being asked. Thus, they often mistake the signal with the noise. For example, office seat sensors measure occupancy, but fail to detect if the occupant is working or mindlessly surfing YouTube. We are not robots building widgets, if we were, we would still be controlled by the Tayloristic management principles that dominated the previous century. Instead, we are knowledge workers sharing ideas to create value in the market. Getting good feedback is critical to understanding a business and the people that drive it.

Foundation for a Good Listening Strategy

Our personal lives are influenced by sharing self-reported data. That same sharing of information is mirrored in our professional lives as well. Note that we are not the only ones who see the validity in this approach. From popular practice to the latest research led by people like Dr. Thomas Davenport,  measuring the knowledge worker requires conversation. We do agree that not all self-reported data is created equal. We believe there are opportunities to evolve. For example, some things we think lay the foundation for a good listening strategy, include:

  • Psychological safety = trust: Of course, self-reported data has inherent biases. Companies ask questions that don’t feel safe to answer, like “how much do you like your boss on a scale from 1 to 5.” If you know your employer is reading the answers, does it feel safe to answer that question? If employees don’t know or trust what will be done with their feedback, companies should expect biased results, or “junk in, junk out.” If you want to capture valid feedback, start with a way of soliciting information that will encourage employees to answer honestly. Using a third-party can often help offer credibility and objectivity of analysis. Avoiding “good/bad” questions can also help.
  • Holistic employee experience: Too many times our silos between disciplines create silos between our measurements and our well-intended employee feedback loop ends up creating a Frankenstein’s monster of a process. In order to know what matters most, focus on needs instead of wants. Like getting different instruments to play from the same sheet of music in a band, creating a common understanding of what a great employee experience looks like and executing on that shared vision will be a symphony to the ears of any business.
  • Balance data types: We are not trying to throw the baby out with the bathwater here. There are several types of data and measurement outside of self-reported data that provide great information, but like most things, balance is key. Combine your collected attitudinal and behavioral data from solutions like ours and compare it to your company’s structural data, to start to paint a better picture of your business. On a micro scale, this will help to improve individual employee effectiveness or on a macro scale you can identify business drivers of organizational performance. As you continue to trend these different types of data, more of your organization’s story will come to life and present opportunities for future growth.

We Power Amazing

With the explosion of analytics and companies offering data solutions, it is becoming more difficult to weed out the high-performers versus the marketing hype machines. Using the same tired methodologies “because that’s the way it’s always been done” is like using a compass that doesn’t point North!
If you are interested in learning more about a new, holistic approach to measuring employee effectiveness, please check this video, read more at our blog page or see first hand what differentiates the WPA platform.  (I want a short demo)

As always, thanks for reading, don’t hesitate to reach out with questions, thoughts or ideas at stephen@wpa.works.  

Stephen Smith