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Lots of “research” out there isn’t research. It’s marketing, wrapped up in survey data, presented for consumption as sales collateral.

In order for research to be research, it needs to be more than just a survey. A survey is merely a method — via a form, phone calls, or even an internet website — where someone investigates behaviors and opinions of a group of people.

Using SurveyMonkey.com to tell me that leaders want better candidates is garbage. Research is deeper than that.

You also have to start with a thesis and test it. In our industry, the thesis tends to be, “Is HR doing it wrong?”

But good research doesn’t lead the witness.

Then companies use try to pass off those survey results as reliable research without telling us important facts. We should know things like:

  1. Sample size — how many people are in the group you surveyed?
  2. Sample methodology — who was chosen and why?
  3. Question construction — why did you ask those questions?
  4. The reliability of the data — does the sample size, methodology and question construction allow a logical person to make appropriate inferences?

Researchers are never afraid to lift the veil and show you what’s underneath.

So when someone tells you that employee engagement is a core issue — or that culture is a hot topic for executives — be sure to look at the mechanics behind the research.

And also don’t hesitate to ask yourself, “Does this sound right? Based on what I know and observe, how is this firm more qualified than me to weigh in on these issues?”

They’re not.

Remember — today’s HR research is marketing, wrapped up in survey data, presented for consumption as sales collateral.

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