Leadership

Responding to Feedback: Take Change in Stride

When Gallup found its presidential polls under fire—as they failed to accurately predict what happened on election day—it didn't just dig in its heels. It decided to find out what went wrong.

When negative feedback hits, do you ignore it or embrace the changes needed to make things right?

We invest in election tracking and report it publicly because we think it provides significant value in understanding the dynamics and nature of the presidential race as it unfolds.

When Gallup, the major political polling provider, was criticized for outlying presidential poll results in the last election cycle (later proven to be inaccurate), the firm used the opportunity to work on long-term improvements. Here’s how:

The root issue: Near the end of the 2012 presidential race, when many daily national polls showed President Barack Obama ahead of Mitt Romney, Gallup’s polls showed a statistical tie. In the middle of October, in fact, its poll skewed heavily in favor of Romney, leading to claims that the poll was an outlier. Noted statistical analyst Nate Silver was among the voices critical of Gallup, writing that “its results are deeply inconsistent with the results that other polling firms are showing in the presidential race, and the Gallup poll has a history of performing very poorly when that is the case.” The results ultimately proved Gallup’s polling off, with 51 percent of the vote going to Obama and 47 percent to Romney.

The response: Gallup said it would investigate the processes it used during the presidential election. Assisting with the review is the University of Michigan’s Michael Traugott, Ph.D., a polling expert who helped the American Association for Public Opinion Research investigate surveying flaws during the 2008 New Hampshire Republican primary—a race Romney was also anticipated to win but did not. On the other hand, Gallup’s Frank Newport, Ph.D., emphasized what the polling firm did correctly: “It’s worth noting that our generic, 2012 congressional vote estimate—included in the same survey as our presidential polling—was in fact highly accurate.”

The goal: The polling field has seen significant changes in recent years—including the increased usage of cellphones for polling—which are likely playing a part in Gallup’s inconsistent results. That opens an opportunity for Gallup to make changes and improve its processes. “We invest in election tracking and report it publicly because we think it provides significant value in understanding the dynamics and nature of the presidential race as it unfolds,” Newport wrote in a blog post. “We hope our review process adds to that understanding.”

Earlier this week, Associations Now’s Mark Athitakis offered a piece of similar advice on handling feedback. “One of the occupational hazards of leadership is insulation from criticism,” he wrote. As an example like this shows, ultimately it’s for the good of the organization to figure out what went wrong.

How does your association work to improve itself when weaknesses become apparent? Tell us about it in the comments.

(iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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