Airport Security and why the Annual Engagement Survey is NOT Dead

Do you remember airports?  You know the places you sometimes went to before your exciting foreign trip or holiday.  Yeah, them.

Well sometimes at airports they have these little mood meter stands where you are asked to rate your experience going through security.  Happy, smiling face…. or grumpy scowling face (or maybe somewhere in between).  You don’t really give it much thought. You absent-mindedly hit one of the buttons and hurry off to the departure lounge.  Or you see some kids tapping a tune out on the buttons like it’s a drum kit.

What I’m saying here is that people don’t care about this research intervention.  They’re not invested in it.

I think that people can easily get into this frame of mind when it comes to any kind of workplace research which is ‘always on’ or always available to them. 

Omnipresent research sells the idea that people should be allowed to give feedback whenever they like, whenever it suits them.  But that is more likely to mean that people only do this when they feel something extreme.  Either positive or more likely negative…. Because “what’s the point in telling you every day that I’m feeling OK right now about stuff at work?”

The next level down is a pulse survey which is sent out very, very frequently.  Some organisations do this daily (yikes) and some weekly.  It may be 2 standard questions that are always asked and 1 rotated question each week.  How long do you think that YOU personally would take to feel a bit numb about these weekly repeated questions.

You may get these on a Friday lunchtime every week.  You know that for the last few weeks you’ve voted 6 or 7 out of 10.  You can’t quite remember, but you know you’re pretty consistent about it. What’s going to cause you to move away from your normal 6 or 7 out of 10?  It’s going to have to be something monumental – like a massive company announcement or some huge personal feedback issue.

But for everyone’s good week, there is likely to be a corresponding person who’s had a not so good week.  So, the averages track at pretty much identical levels from week to week.  And then it becomes a bit meaningless.  You’re tracking data simply for the purpose of tracking data. The trend lines are flat. 

You might congratulate yourself on creating a culture where people are consistently at the average 6 or 7 out of 10.  And the numbers trundle on. 

My challenge with this kind of tracking research (and I was involved in stuff like this many, many moon ago when I worked at ITV in their audience measurement team) is that it’s very rarely used to create change.

You have loads of data but don’t actually do anything with it.

At what point in time do the airport authorities look at the data from their mood meter? And when do they decide to use the data and make any necessary changes to their operation?

At what point do you look at your weekly pulse survey and decide to adapt how things run in your business because the data is suggesting a need for change.

BUT…. If you run a more expansive bigger survey at a 6 monthly interval or annual interval, there is a far greater likelihood that it will be more valuable.

1) People will see this as their primary opportunity to share how they’re feeling about stuff (good and bad) and will also happily report about the stuff which is just OK.

2) You will value that data much more because you know the staff do

3) You will then use that data because it has a higher inherent sense of value.

4) Your action plan is more likely to success

5) You’re happy, the employees are happy, the business is happy.

6) Everyone wins.


I get that these types of project are “just a snapshot of a moment in time”.

I get that always-on pulse surveys are exactly that, continuous.

But, I think you treasure the perfect moment holiday photograph much more than the hundreds of blurry and not quite in-frame ones that you take.  

Remember holidays?   When you next get the chance, look out for the post-security check mood meter.  Play a little drum riff for me.

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