It was a pretty common occurrence at SIOP 2017: People who were re-connecting with colleagues over cocktails or networking with new connections between sessions would very quickly find themselves in conversations about advancing technology, and particularly about its implications for how we are collecting data, analyzing it, and visualizing it. From formal sessions to the lobby bar, you’d repeatedly hear themes like social media scraping, natural language processing, machine learning, cadence of data collection, data mining, and data visualization.

While a lot of exciting things are happening in the organizational data collection and analysis space, there is also uncertainty. What is I/O psychology’s role in shaping these trends? How do they impact our field? Among all the options and new possibilities, what is the “right” data approach to take?

Purpose of data collection

Through the mix of both excitement and ambiguity, it is important to remember that there is a purpose behind the art and science of data collection—and that purpose is to inform action. Seem obvious? Perhaps, but there was surprisingly little at the 2017 conference that focused on the action part of the Data Collection–Analysis/Reporting–Action cycle.

It was exactly this gap that the “Driving Action in a Shifting Survey Landscape” conference session sought to fill. What did this expert panel consisting of Justin Black (Glint), Dan Denison (Denison Consulting), Jim Harter (Gallup) and Michael Papay (Waggl), have to say about how technology and some of these trends are impacting how organizations are taking action?

Where technology won’t help you

Organizations that are successful in driving the right actions have a lot of things in common that have nothing to do with technology, or survey program designs or platforms.

Focus: Forget driving action on your top 3 priorities – try starting with one. The right lever will often have cascading impact. But how do you know if you’re pulling the right lever…?

In service of strategy, NOT surveys: If you are prioritizing actions to improve a survey score, you are likely not pulling the right lever. Priorities should be set based on what will be best drive the strategic goals of the business. Actions should never be “in addition” to the real work, but “in support” of it. If there is lack of clarity around purpose and strategy, start there!

Technology facilitates the tried and true

Some best practices for driving organizational change aren’t tied to, or dependent on, changes in technology. But there are many ways that you can harness new technologies as a tool for putting these “oldies but goodies” to work in your organization.

Transparency: Real-time results and intuitive data visualizations have made it is easier than ever for wider and wider populations to quickly understand overall patterns and engage in sensemaking at local levels. Leverage it!

Involvement: Don’t just gather data from your employees. Involve them in the prioritization and action-planning process. What do people think are the most important priorities? The most impactful actions? Leverage advancing technology platforms to solicit innovative ideas, crowd source plans and facilitate productive dialogue – post survey.

Accountability: Doing nothing will often be your biggest competition. Ownership over action is key. Set clear expectations for locally driven actions and model at the top. Utilize available platforms to track and share actions and progress across levels and functions.

Continuity: True change is rarely achieved through “flavor of the month” initiatives. Harness the ability to gather and report out data more quickly and through multiple sources as a powerful mechanism to keep focus on what’s important, NOT as a driver of a continually changing agenda.

Connection: Beyond being rooted in strategy, successful organizations embed their priorities across multiple initiatives (e.g., customer, performance management, etc.). More and more, technology is facilitating our ability to connect previously separate activities.

Driving your data collection methodology decisions

With new recommendations around data collection, analysis and reporting coming on-line so often these days, it’s important to remember that, when it comes to guiding meaningful action in organizations, we know a lot about what successful organizations do. When there is pressure to “try something new” in your organizational survey program, remember the most important criterion for driving decisions about survey methodology and technology: thoughtful evaluation of how those methodologies will support strategic action in your organization.

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