Stop Conducting Training Surveys

Written by Bill Cushard | Oct 21, 2013 6:46:50 PM

Earlier this month, I wrote a blog post about five ways to make your training survey questions more effective. This week, I'd like to discuss whether we should do survey questions at all? Seriously. Part of me thinks we should not conduct training surveys at all. 

Radical thought, I know. But here me out.

The reason I suggest we should not conduct training surveys is based on a point I made in that previous blog post in which I state, "The most important [training survey] principle is to write questions that seek responses on which you can take action." The problem is that we don't always take action on survey results, and if we do not take action on the data, we should not collect the data, right?

Tell me if this sounds familiar.

Training Survey Review Process

Unless you have the discipline of an Olympic athlete or are at least as busy as everyone else, it is possible you have collected training survey forms, filed them away, and never looked at them again. In the rare occasions when you did sit down to review the survey results, it probably looked something like this:

Dismissed the Fives: You scanned the surveys and saw several that circled "all fives." That feels great for a moment, until you realize that at least some of those scores are from people who just circled all fives to finish the survey quickly. You dismiss those. You also dismiss the other fives because they confirm what you already know, that your training was excellent!

Ignored the Ones: In the event that you saw a few low scores, you ignore those because "those people can't be pleased anyway."

Acknowledged the Threes: Finally, you have the scores in the middle. These must have value, so you slow down to review the scores and read the comments. There are some valid points with which you agree, and you even agree that you should make those changes. But then you realize how busy you are and that you likely won't get to those changes for a while. By then, you will have moved on to the next project.

What just happened? In your sincerity, you collected potentially useful data, but did not take any action. I am not making a judgement about whether it is right or wrong. I am only stating that the result of collecting training survey data is that no action is taken.

So why collect the data in the first place?

Collect Only Essential Data

In this scenario, we should not waste any time collecting the data. I suspect most of you will not accept this idea, and if you do not, I make one single request. Write your surveys as briefly as possible and make sure you only ask questions that will provide useful data.

I believe we should only be asking two types of questions.

  1. Was the instructor knowledgeable, prepared, and effective overall?
  2. Was the course content valuable in some way?

These question types have a specific purpose, and that is to seek responses that could result in improvements to the course. Any other question type is superfluous. So, do not collect the data unless there is a specific purpose for it.

What purpose does your training survey seek to accomplish? What regular action do you take on your survey results? Do you wish you could stop conducting training surveys? Why or Why not?

Bill Cushard, authorblogger, and learning experience (LX) designer, is a human performance technologist (HPT) with extensive, in-the-trenches experience building learning organizations in start-up and hyper-growth organizations like E*TRADE, the Knowland Group, and Accenture. You can follow him on Twitter or on Google+.