External & Internal Digital Consultations: A Comparison

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“A new era of real-time, pulse, and anonymous feedback and culture applications has emerged. . . . and the companies that figure out how to tap into this type of feedback will likely rocket ahead in their work practices, employee engagement, customer service, and product innovation.”  

–  Josh Bersin, Deloitte HR Senior Consultant

Today’s proliferation of digital engagement tools, pulse surveys, and online forums represents a wide-spectrum of opportunities for companies to make the best of their stakeholder consultations. As such, flexibility, responsiveness, and regular feedback are becoming the staple diet of an increasing number of organizations.

Business intelligence tools make valuable information available on demand and summarize qualitative insights, while social dialogue blurs the boundaries of time and location. With the Internet hyper-revolutionizing the world of work, ever-new technologies are surely making these processes run smoothly.

But at the end of the day we can all only fill so many questionnaires. For all it’s hype, virtual hyper-stimulation can become a disengagement trap.

Overcoming Survey Fatigue

To avoid abuse, misuse, or over-use, the digital engagement revolution calls for carefully crafted approaches when it comes to public consultation strategy. The effectiveness of these will depend on fine-tuning important factors — such as the total time required for completing a survey, or the level of reward offered to participants.

Additionally, digital communication practitioners should consider the relational proximity between stakeholders, as that will determine the level of expectations. To oversimplify: asking one’s neighbors for their opinion on whether to paint one’s house in shades of yellow or shades of blue is not the same as consulting one’s kids – let alone one’s spouse! – on whether they prefer a fish tank or a couple of Siamese cats. The former requires a question in passing; the latter, a dinner-table conversation.

Finding a Tailored Approach

Important considerations come into play when identifying differences between carrying out a municipal consultation and an employee engagement process. To be sure, all stakeholders tend to have common expectations from online surveys: they want their voice to be heard, followed by having certainty that something will be done in response to their input.

However, in comparing external and internal public consultation methods, I have also found some variations worth noting. These are summarized below.

External/Public Consultation
Internal/Staff Consultation
Rewards > The level of reward should correspond to the time/effort demanded to complete the survey. (It is important to make sure to highlight rewards from the outset, giving participants immediate motivation to engage in the consultation.)

> It is worth considering giving a small reward for every complete response; as well as entering participants into a draw to a larger prize once they invite their acquaintances to the consultation.

> As with external/public consultations, rewards for completion may be effective. However, given the more direct and up-close nature of an internal consultation, team/staff members will expect changes based on what they share. An immediate reward that is not followed by concrete actions can be counterproductive. Delivering organizational results in a timely way is the most effective way to reward staff survey-participation and employee engagement in the workplace.
Level of Detail > Clear and very concise wording of questions and options of response.

> Provide summarized statements, followed by links for those participants interested in going further.


> Brevity and clarity should always be hallmarks of a digital collaboration forum. Still, for more in-depth or technical consultations it may be worth including more detailed images/statements through links or ‘Click here to view more’ expandable windows.

> Adequate rewards for participation (as well as the perceived potential for implementing change) will both affect how much time staff members are willing to allocate to a survey.

Time Allocation > The broader the outreach, the more concise should the quantity and nature of the questions be.

> To increase participation levels, it is worth estimating 1 minute for very specific surveys; 2-3 minutes max. for more general, open-ended questionnaires.

> The time team/staff members are willing to allocate depends on their perceived likelihood that their input will: a) inform the final results; b) be followed with concrete action plans.

> Some research suggest that completion times for employee surveys should not exceed 15 minutes. Other findings reveal that even committed team/staff members will begin to disengage from questionnaires that takes longer than 7-8 minutes to complete. Regardless, on average the more questions asked, the less time respondents spend answering each question—affecting the quality and reliability of the collected data.

> Note well: While the annual survey has become the norm in most large companies, these are rapidly being replaced by pulse-surveys and “always on” rating systems of social dialogue.

Anonymity > Lacking control to who has access to a consultation, the possibility of anonymity could lend itself to multiple voting and/or inflammatory comments. > Voicing out sensitive issues could bring repercussions. Online platforms that give users the option (and the guarantee) of remaining completely anonymous will lead to a fuller disclosure of opinions.

> Especially acute in employee consultations is the potential for bias by voting uncritically following one’s favorite leader or one’s group (aka ‘group-think’). Anonymous inputs, votes, and credibility points will lead to more objective, representative results.

Moderation > Given the impersonal nature of the relationship between the public and the moderator(s), answers to comments/questions should remain strictly technical, offering further information reflective of numerous perspectives .

> Given that people will more likely respond to an authority figure, a respected and well-known leader should promote the consultation. However, she/he should abstain from moderation; participants may perceive responses as a source of bias.

> If a consultation is premised on employee anonymity, the same should not be the case for the moderator(s). In this case, transparency leads to credibility. Ideally, moderators should either be a clearly identified third-party, and/or staff members who do not have (and are perceived as not having) any stakes in the outcomes of the consultation.

> If this is not a possibility, a moderator’s replies should only direct the participants to balanced sources of information and abstain from making any definitive statements.

External and internal digital consultations have many overlaps. They also respond to a diverse set of expectations. And as such they call for differentiated, nuanced approaches that make the best of today’s wide array of digital engagement and business intelligence tools.

2018-09-26T06:19:48-07:00September 16th, 2016|Expert Insight, Tips & Resources|0 Comments