Have you ever had someone say something that did not mesh with your perception? Maybe the comment was so jolting it stopped you in your tracks. Perhaps the statement created a little fissure that allowed self-doubt to creep in. Or maybe you placed a scrap of mental Kevlar between you and the idea. Who is right? You or them?
Association professionals get feedback all the time. Often from the board, sometimes from members, periodically from volunteers, and maybe from staff. Sometimes the feedback is personal. Most of the time, the feedback is directed at the organization. We want to be responsive to our members, but wouldn’t it be great if we knew if the feedback was correct or not? After all, it would be silly to turn the association inside out at the whim of one member, especially if the biases of that one member make them flat out wrong.
There’s a way to discover if the feedback is correct or not but, first let’s talk about the kind of feedback I’m talking about because there are two kinds. One type of feedback is based on irregular issues; the other is based on systemic issues.
Feedback stemming from irregular issues are complaints like “the coffee is cold.” These are the odd problems that just come up as we create opportunities for our members. We solve the problem swiftly and move on. Unless you are hearing feedback about irregular issues often and over time, do not dwell here. It is the feedback arising from systematic issues we want to vet for correctness.
Feedback from systemic issues are usually complaints based on problems created by ineffective processes, systems, platforms, rules, or people. You may hear things like, “I’m frustrated that I can’t change my maiden name to my new married name on your website,” or “the executive director seems aloof,” or “the registration process takes too long.”
There’s no sense in spending weeks fixing the registration process if just one member out of thousands feels that way. So how do you know if one person’s feedback represents an army of like-minded members?
I’m faced with this problem every day. Each qualitative research project yields hundreds if not thousands of opinions. Not every view is shared by every member. Not every opinion is worth pursuing.
How do I sift through thousands of data points to figure out what is worth acting on? I look for patterns, and I ask myself these questions
- Have five or more people mentioned the same challenge?
- Have the people giving the feedback influenced each other, possibly making the feedback unreliable?
- Could the people giving the feedback have an ulterior motive?
Organizations that are good at pattern recognition tend to follow up on member feedback wisely.