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Management's neglected tool.

Most Managers at some point in their careers have received surveys. Some of these surveys were probably filled out while others found their way into the trash. Surveys can provide valuable information but only if they are targeted to the appropriate audience, properly structured, and fashioned to encourage response.

Surveys have many purposes. They may be used to measure security staff morale and attitudes as well as to provide a forum for staff suggestions or ideas. They can be an efficient way to evaluate new equipment and procedures. Surveys that go beyond the security staff offer additional possibilities. By gathering opinions from other employees, managers, and customers, a security manager can determine items that may need to be changed or improved. For people who run independent security firms, surveying employees and clients can lead to new ideas for innovative services.

Survey strategy. Once a company has decided to use surveys, the first step is to determine the target audience. The purpose of the survey will dictate the choices. For example, to determine morale, staff would be surveyed. But staff would not be included in a survey to determine bow outsiders view the department.

Ideally, everyone in the target group should be surveyed, but polling every member of a group may be too costly or time consuming. The general rule, therefore, is to survey as many people as practical, which means surveying a sample population. The most important point to remember in sampling is that it should be random. Any other selection rule, no matter how correct the intentions, may create bias in the responses.

Whether the survey will be conducted by mail, telephone, or face-to-face also needs to be considered. Managers should let the nature of the survey dictate the method.

In-person and telephone surveys guarantee timely responses and add a personal touch, which some people prefer. However, these methods can be expensive since someone must be paid to conduct the interviews.

Using the mail is less expensive and can be effective in contacting individuals who are hard to reach. The drawback to this method is that individuals may take a while to respond or they may ignore the survey altogether. In selecting a procedure, cost must be balanced with the need for timely responses, and the comfort of speaking with a real person must be weighed against the ability to contact everyone.

A security manager may want to consider hiring a consultant. Consultants can assist with writing survey questions, but more important, they can be invaluable in interpreting survey responses. Even the simplest questions can benefit from interpretations made by someone fluent in statistical analysis.

Response quantity. A number of tricks of the trade can help increase response rates. First, a survey should be as short as possible. The longer a survey is, the less likely people are to respond.

A survey should also be attractive and look quick and easy to complete. The survey must be perceived to guarantee anonymity. The survey should not ask for information, such as name and social security number, unless absolutely necessary.

The survey should be careful about indirect identification questions. For example, asking gender and age may be all that is needed to establish who is answering the survey. While the surveyor may have no intention of identifying individuals, respondents might not see it that way.

Whenever possible, multiple-choice questions should be asked. This may reduce the amount of information obtained, but more people will finish the survey because it is easier to fill out.

A common mistake - especially in multiple-choice questions - is not providing all the possible answers. Asking a question and then not permitting people to select the appropriate answer can discredit an entire survey. An easy solution is to include the option "other."

Another common mistake found in surveys is overlapping answers, such as "Age: A. 35-37, B. 38-39, C. 39-41, D. 42 and over." There is nothing wrong with A and D, but what if the person is 39? Does the individual select B or C? Some respondents will mark B, others will choose C. The surveyor should ensure that all responses are mutually exclusive.

If open-ended or essay questions are used, people should respond to specifics. Rather than asking people what they think of security staff, they should be asked to describe an actual incident that illustrates their attitude toward the security staff. The latter question is easier to answer and is more likely to provide useful information.

Surveys that garner a high response rate typically provide a reason for people to respond. Managers should not assume that the survey's significance will be evident - they must tell people why it is important before answers are requested. The target audience must also be told why the survey is being conducted and what the company hopes to find out.

Response quality. The quality of the information received is dictated by the quality of the questions. The easiest way to maximize the quality of responses is to ask questions in the correct manner. Leading questions should be avoided. The survey should not ask, "Do you think a courteous security staff is important for good customer relations?" Let's face it, who would answer no? Rather, the survey should ask, "On a scale of one to ten, how courteous do you believe our security staff is to customers?"

The survey should avoid questions with socially correct answers. Most people, regardless of what they believe, will select the socially correct response. Who would not agree that the company should prosecute all shoplifters? Yet many employees might turn a blind eye to a homeless or attractive shoplifter.

A better question might be something like, "Are there any situations where shoplifting should not be prosecuted?" This question is more likely to reveal what people think, not what they think society wants them to say.

A common problem in survey research is known as the Hawthorne effect. This is what happens when people try to guess what the surveyor wants and then answer accordingly. The Hawthorne effect cannot be eliminated completely. The easiest way to minimize it, however, is to be honest. The respondents should be told exactly why the survey is being conducted and how the results are going to be used, which results in more honest responses.

The best way to guarantee an effective survey is to pretest it. The survey can be given to two or three people who can provide feedback.

Surveys can be a helpful tool for the corporate security manager, providing both opinions and ideas on a variety of topics. Knowing why, who, and how to survey helps ensure a high quality and valid managerial tool.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:security surveys
Author:Viech, Mickey; Head, Thomas
Publication:Security Management
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Previous Article:Six secrets of a successful survey.
Next Article:Making employees part of the plan.

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