Research as a communication tool? Won’t that bias things?, you might ask. As researchers, we know it is vital not to bias our research by revealing too much to our respondents. For example, if you wanted to know whether your brand is memorable, you don’t tell your subjects what brand you’re asking about – you show several brands and then ask pertinent questions. So then the idea of using research for communication can sound like a bit of a crazy notion to a traditional researcher.
But let’s be crazy for a second. There are specific times when research is useful as a way of getting a message across, and even building a stronger relationship with your respondent. One place this works particularly well is with employee research. What are the reasons that organizations typically conduct research with their staff? Well, for many organizations it’s an annual values, satisfaction or engagement survey. But there are other reasons for an organization to survey people. What if you, as a researcher or an HR person, wanted to know whether your employees know how much your company gives back to the community? In this instance, perhaps you run a survey on this topic. Would it be a bad thing if, after the important questions are asked, you include more information on this topic so that your staff know what you do for charitable giving/volunteering etc.? You still gather the relevant information so you know what is and is not working about your program, but at the end of it your staff may feel a bit better, a bit more in tune with what your organization is doing, a bit more ’on the same side.’
How about for social events? You can survey people about what they’d like to see and do, and how they feel about participating – and after the process of gathering opinions and perceptions, encourage people to participate. Mentoring? Asking people whether they’d be interested in participating in a mentoring program, and in the process sharing the benefits and responsibilities? How about an onboarding survey that has a checklist for a new hire, but also shares with them some of what the organization is about? There are certainly a lot of possibilities here, and by involving employees this way, you may find some better feedback on that annual satisfaction survey.
Sure, you may want to exercise some caution – if you were conducting your annual values survey, you would want to get an unbiased read on how people understand the company values before describing them in more detail. But, that said, there’s no harm in asking about opinions and perceptions of company values, and then describe the intent of the values and invite employees to give feedback about how the company could better live the values it espouses. In that process, the employee becomes more in tune with what the company is trying to do. That’s a good thing.
When conducting employee research, I have often heard employees of various companies in very different industries ask for more communication. I’ve always held that the critical component of communication is better rather than simply more. And part of what makes communication better is dialogue. Surveys, discussions, forums, sharing feedback from these – all of these are ways to evolve communication from a top-down to a two-way process.