From the workplace

More on Questionnaires

Earlier this year I wrote this piece about how much I dislike Questionnaires. Since then I have been meaning to tell the following story.

Back in the 1990s I was a frequent visitor to software companies and software trade fairs. The big three companies for the work that I did back then were Lotus, WordPerfect and Microsoft. I attended upgrade courses at these places, and had my own training skills evaluated so that I could be certified by each of them. It was an important part of the job.

At one software company, attending yet another upgrade course, I encountered a trainer I had heard of but never met. He didn’t work for the software company but was used as a consultant for some of their training. I didn’t like his style. It incorporated what some people call “banter” but in my view was more in the realm of misogynistic abuse and bullying. Early in the course a woman, whom he had evidently met before, and who was sitting towards the front, asked a straightforward question and he prefaced his answer with “She’s such a tart”. And, in my view, he didn’t answer her question properly.

Later in the course I asked a less straightforward, more detailed question about Mail Merge options and he began his reply with “Well, that’s a stupid question”. 20 minutes later, when we were at work on an exercise, he came over to me and apologized, kind of, saying that he hadn’t really understood the question but he thought he had the answer. It was 20 minutes too late.

At the end of the course we were all given Evaluation Forms. I felt conflicted. I hate filling in forms. I wanted to record my dissatisfaction with the course, but didn’t want to take responsibility for complaining about it. I gave responses in the “fair to middling” parts of the form and got out as quick as possible. I discussed it with a colleague back at work, wondering whether I should have taken a stronger stand. She had encountered that trainer before, hadn’t enjoyed his training, but hadn’t complained either.

About two months later another colleague came back from the same place, from another upgrade course, and had an update on that trainer. He was no longer delivering training for the company. A delegate on a previous course, who worked for one of that software company’s very large clients, had given a very unfavourable evaluation. She suspected that the trainer filtered out the worst evaluations, so she followed it up a few days later. There was no record of her evaluation form (and, she assumed, other unfavourable evaluations). She insisted that he should not be allowed to train any of her colleagues in the future and they went further than that: he wouldn’t be training anyone there.

Although this was probably a fair outcome it reflected my experience of how questionnaires were used back then and why I dislike them. The late, great travel writer Pete McCarthy described his school’s approach to education as “carrot and stick, without the carrot”, and that was the way many companies used their questionnaires: all stick and no carrot. I imagine that not much has changed since the 1990s.


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