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Jim Clifton | Opinion polls: answer lies in the question

Jim Clifton | Opinion polls: answer lies in the question
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First Published: Mon, Jun 01 2009. 10 32 PM IST

Jim Clifton, CEO, Gallup Inc. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
Jim Clifton, CEO, Gallup Inc. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
Updated: Mon, Jun 01 2009. 10 32 PM IST
The company is best known for its opinion polls but today, polling is just a small part of the worldwide business of Gallup, Inc. In fact, Gallup CEO Jim Clifton is best known as the creator of The Gallup Path, a metric-based economic model that establishes linkages among human nature in the workplace, customer engagement and business outcomes. The Gallup Path is integral to the performance management systems in at least 500 companies worldwide and forms the basis of most of Gallup’s total revenues.
Jim Clifton, CEO, Gallup Inc. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
Under Clifton’s leadership, Gallup has expanded from a predominantly US-based company to a global organization with at least 40 offices in 20 countries. Clifton and his team advise organizations such as Stryker Corp., Wells Fargo and Co. and Thailand’s Siam Commercial Bank Pcl. on leveraging behavioural economics for sustainable growth and profitability, especially in the current global economic downturn.
On a visit to India in April, Clifton spoke to Campaign on the firm’s commitment to its Indian operations, polling processes and the relevance of economic forecasts. Edited excerpts:
How big is the polling market in India and globally. How is it growing?
The pure polling business is actually quite small. There is a survey-based marketing research business that in India might be $100 million (around Rs473 crore), but Gallup is not focused on much of that part of the market. Gallup’s focus in polling-based work is on what is used for social and economic analysis, especially for global governments and NGOs.
Globally, there is a huge demand for polling-based social and economic analysis on issues such as war and peace, terrorism and security, leadership evaluation, policies, health and well-being, among others. In this respect, the Gallup World Poll, which is something we are now doing continuously in over 150 countries, is designed to give the world’s six billion citizens a voice in key global issues. Gallup’s revenues in this area are about $50 million, but we expect that to grow considerably over the coming years.
What is Gallup’s prime area of work in India? How big is the team here? What are your plans for India?
We are primarily known as a polling company and enjoy the reputation of a world-renowned pollster, even though polls are a small part of our business. Our biggest business—over 80% of our revenues—is conducting research-based management consulting and education for companies, especially in helping them assess their employees or their dealings with consumers.
We have been present in India since the last 12 years, but our focus area here has not been polling but instead, (it has been) management consulting because we feel it’s a better strategy to be in the business of behavioural economics, employee and customer management than polling here. This could be one reason why Gallup is not a household name, like in the US or elsewhere.
Gallup India Pvt. Ltd has grown over four times in the last three years. We have grown from 30 people in 1996 to 100 people now, and indirectly employ around 300.
There are amazing growth opportunities for consulting here because companies in India are far more interested in increasing employee productivity than firms in China, for example. The market will grow over five times in the next couple of years. If today there are 200 companies interested in Gallup’s services in these areas, the number of companies will definitely be around 1,000 in a few years as the economy grows and the corporate sector grows and more significantly, companies go global.
As most companies have already leveraged strategy and process excellence to a large extent, the next lever of growth will be behavioural economics or the human elements.
Gallup has been researching applied behavioural economics for several decades and is the leading organization in measuring and managing human behaviour—across employees, customers, internal customers, vendors, channel partners, investors—for driving business results. Therefore, we believe that Gallup India will grow manyfold in (the) years to come and we remain committed to support this growth in every possible way.
Of the four businesses—poll, consulting, education and publishing—which are the fastest growing service areas for you and why?
In the past decade, almost all of our growth has been in the management consulting work for companies which seek to get the most out of their businesses. Our research, along with (the) recent advances in economics, psychology and management sciences, tells us that organizations can grow by developing highly engaged customers and building engaged workforces of talented employees. Our programmes are financially measurable and yield a significant return on investment.
The second fastest growing business after consulting is the social and economic analysis work that comes out of our Gallup World Poll vehicle. There is an ever-increasing interest in solving issues ranging from job creation, extremism to political and economic stability.
Globalization requires leaders to scrutinize how their nations, economies and organizations not only fit into the dynamic global landscape, but also promote growth and create partnerships.
Our polls and the analysis based on them provide these insights by continually measuring key indicators such as leadership, law and order, food/shelter, work, economics, health, well-being, migration, environment, education, entrepreneurship and citizens, and demonstrating their correlations with world development indicators such as gross domestic product and brain gain (a phenomenon where expatriate professionals, scientists, doctors and engineers return to the native country).
Compared to the other two businesses, education and publishing are quite small.
How is technology affecting the way market research firms work? What is the usage level of these technologies and how do you see them growing?
Technology allows you to disseminate real-time information, but it has not changed the way we collect data. Around 80% of the data collection still happens through in-person or telephone interviews because that continues to be the most accurate methodology from a pure methodological point of view for much of the work.
There are lots of things you can do using Web surveys, but these do not work when you are trying to accurately predict the opinions of a society. The Gallup World Poll continually surveys the well-being, behaviour and attitudes of people in more than 150 countries and provides access to the voices, hearts and minds of samples representing 95% of the earth’s adult population.
Worldwide core questions, as well as region-specific questions, are asked across countries over time, which enables leaders to compare data and spot emerging social and economic trends. We also have a daily tracking poll, where every night we poll 1,000 Americans for their views on politics, the economy, well-being and health, and post new numbers each day at 1pm ET (Eastern Time, US) on Gallup.com.
Why do surveys/poll forecasts go wrong sometimes?
The answer lies in the questions asked. Although technology has made the polling process faster and sophisticated, the secret to an accurate poll forecast lies in the fine art of crafting questions. If you don’t pose the right question, the forecast is bound to be off the mark.
The polling process remains the same, whether it’s a marketing or a political poll. The only difference lies in the questions posed and it is the quality of questions that are singularly responsible for a good or bad poll.
How important is the business or economic forecasting market given the rapidly changing landscape and related technology factors?
The key thing is to watch for momentum and trends around us. For instance, our daily tracking poll tells us that consumer spending in the US has gone down quite a bit.
We can see that consumer confidence is on the decline and is reflective of the sentiment in the overall economy. We have been tracking hope (people’s emotional response to general outlook) and the results can help spot trends.
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First Published: Mon, Jun 01 2009. 10 32 PM IST