Survey Research To Instill Fear

It’s not uncommon for management to use survey research to instill fear in front-line personnel.  Here’s an example of how this works:  The other day when I purchased stamps at a local post office branch, the clerk who handed me my receipt encouraged me to go online and take a survey,  titled, Customer Experience.  She not only mentioned the survey but, in addition, circled with her pen the website address on the receipt as she handed it to me; all the while, smiling and being more than pleasant, actually solicitous.  I’m made to feel that it’s important that I take the survey.  The survey is not presented as incidental but, rather, central to my purchase, second only to the required cash.  I have similar experiences at Walgreen’s and Hertz customer counters.

Front-line personnel not only almost beg customers to take these sorts of  surveys but, in addition, faun over customers, hoping for positive assessments, because they  fear  penalties (assignment to less desirable locations/duties, demotion or, in situations without union contract protection, firing) that inevitably follow negative assessments.

Another example of the use of survey research to instill fear is comes from the Affordable Care Act.  Sarah Poggi, an obstetrician practicing in Alexandria, VA, describes in a Chicago Tribune “Perspective” how required patient satisfaction surveys and hospital management put her in fear of negative assessments: “I am . . . subjected to patient satisfaction surveys as dictated by the Affordable Care Act.  Here’s a reasonable-sounding sample question: `How often did doctors treat you with courtesy and respect?’  The possible answers are `never’, sometimes’, `usually’, and `always’.  My hospital [management] has made it clear that some of the federal funding we receive is tied to the proportion of `always’ answers; we get no credit for `usually’, which might as well be `never’. . . . We are receiving mixed messages about our patients.  On the one hand, we are told to watch for angry behavior and to report it.  On the other, we are incentivized to excuse the same behavior and even accommodate it. . . .  . [W]e are aware of patients’ ability . . . to deny us compensation. . . .  We are tired of the concept that `the customer is always right’. . . . And, to be honest, we are also a little afraid”.

Inducing fear is not the most effective way to bring about and sustain, better behavior.  Those in fear do only the minimum required (in these instances, doing what they can to obtain favorable reviews on surveys) rather than doing their best to continually improve their performance in all aspects of their duties and responsibilities.  Personnel doing their best is an ongoing effort for continuous improvement of results and includes helping others do a better job, suggesting and assisting in the implementation of procedural reforms, proposing cost cutting measures, and so on.

To bring out the best in personnel management must, as Deming instructs, drive out fear and, following Aubrey Daniels,  stimulate/induce and give positive reinforcement for desired behavior.  This is the behavioral view which, based on scientific procedures and evidence, affirms that behavior is predictable and can be controlled because behavior is a function of its antecedents and consequences and managers, in most–if not absolutely every–organizational setting, can control the antecedents and consequences of the behavior of the personnel they manage.  Consequently, as Daniels points out, the most effective managers manage antecedents and consequences of behavior:

“The ABC (Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence) Analysis is a simple method for systematically analyzing the antecedents and consequences influencing [in addition to genes]  a behavior.  This analytic technique will allow you to understand behavior from the other person’s perspective, even when it appears to be unproductive, irrational, or self-defeating.

Antecedent: Something that comes before a behavior that sets the stage for the behavior to occur.

Behavior: What a person does.

Consequence: What happens to the performer as a a result of the behavior” (Daniels, Bringing Out the Best in People, p. 34).

Up your management game!  Be a behaviorist.

For more information about the use of survey research for manifold purposes, see “Survey Research for Self-Expression, Feedback, and Other Purposes” in my book, The Problem with Survey Research, pp. 321-34.

For a discussion of the behavioral approach to management, see “Behaviorism” and “Behavioral Management” in my book, QUALITY Public Management, pp. 19-23.

About georgebeam

George Beam is an educator and author. The perspectives that inform his interpretations of the topics of this blog–-as well as his other writings and university courses -–are system analysis, behaviorism, and Internet effects. Specific interests include quality management, methodology, and politics. He is Associate Professor Emeritus, Department of Public Administration; Affiliated Faculty, Department of Political Science; and, previously, Head, Department of Public Administration, University of Illinois at Chicago
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