As any woman (and most men) know, it's not difficult to game a survey in "Cosmopolitan" or "Glamour." The way the questions are phrased, it's pretty easy to figure out the answers you should offer to be considered "sexy" rather than "frigid" or a "raving nymphomaniac." Survey takers largely want to be seen as "normal" or perhaps a bit better than normal.
The same problem bedevils corporate research. Too often, people answer the way they think they should rather than giving answers that accurately reflect reality. BusinessWeek's Stephen Baker wonders if that's what happened with McKinsey's recent survey on adoption of Web 2.0 technology in the enterprise, which I wrote about on Monday.and again today, providing highlights of a Forbes interview with the McKinsey report's author. McKinsey surveyed nearly 1,700 executives around the world about their companies' use of Web 2.0 technologies.
When I saw the headline on Baker's blog post, What do execs know?, I figured it was going to be another instance of someone noting that employees are sneaking their favorite Web 2.0 tools into the workplace without corporate knowledge or approval. But no. While he touches upon this idea, his main point is:
I think [executives] feel pressure to say that they're implementing new communications technologies, because to say the opposite looks backward. And of course they insist that they benefit from them, because to confess that they don't would signal ineptitude.
Almost everyone in the company shares the need to be seen as successful. And so executives "are much more likely to learn about one showcase example than dozens of smaller implementations that might actually produce greater results." They probably won't hear about any successes involving tools not sanctioned by the company, perhaps Twitter or Google Apps. (If anything, it's even easier to game informal internal surveys than external ones like McKinsey's.)
To get a truer sense of the benefits, McKinsey should have surveyed front-line workers rather than executives, Baker writes. Agreed. I also think everyone, including those who write surveys and those who take them, needs to recognize that using facts and figures to back up Web 2.0 investments is still a tough task and that measuring Web 2.0 benefits can be tricky.