Sign up with your email address to be the first to know about new products, VIP offers, blog features & more.

Trust in leadership and employee surveys

Trust in leadership

Are you getting the employee participation you want from your job satisfaction surveys?

Trust in Leadership

Do your employees trust the leadership team? Last week I shared my beliefs on why I think employees should fill out employee job satisfaction surveys and this is part deux on the same topic. When employees do not want to fill out employee surveys, it is NOT because they don’t see the value in the survey. I believe that employees don’t fill out surveys because they fear that their answers will be tracked back to them individually. This is an especially sensitive topic when employees have critical feedback of the company or their leaders. Frankly, it is the critical feedback that I want to hear as a manager because this is where I can improve. I don’t need to hear if I am doing well, I NEED to hear when I am f’in it up. It is tough to work on improvement when I don’t know what is wrong.

I don’t think a quarter goes by where I don’t get a call from a CEO or an HR colleague who asks me to check out their negative feedback on Nine times out of 10 there are only 1 or 2 negative comments out of 20 or 30 positive comments. OIYYY VEYYY! Why are we seeing the tree instead of the forest and worried about the fringe commentary?

  • It is easy to take negative feedback personally. It’s easy to feel like we failed our employees and our personal reputations are at risk when someone publicly badmouth’s the company or leadership. If we have 20% of our comments reading negatively, this is a trend. Three to 5% is a signal. One or 2% is but a blip on the radar that just needs a couple of taps on the screen to get the needle reading back to normal.
  • Glassdoor is not a 1-time annual survey. Glassdoor is a complete anthology of feedback so if your company has been around for 5 years, there can be 5 times the amount of feedback as compared to an annual survey where year to year the company may have improved over time.

How do we treat the process as leaders?

If you are part of a leadership team that wants to increase trust in leadership, one way is to evaluate how we treat the process around employee satisfaction surveys. A few recommendations below: 

  1. Squash the talk at the manager and executive level when leaders try to figure out who posted comments (both positive and negative) on prior employee surveys or Even if the comments are negative, we should be thankful that our employees are taking the time to provide feedback. Focus on creating a culture that doesn’t sweat the minutia when it comes to employee surveys. We shouldn’t worry about a single employee or two out of 50 bitching about management if the rest of the feedback is neutral to positive. 
  2. When it comes to employee surveys, explain publicly that the answers are not trackable to the individual level. Explain this concept 3 times three different ways. Saying this 3 times MAY not be enough, but I can assure you that explaining it once will NOT be enough.
  3. Schedule time on employee calendars so they can complete the surveys on company time. Reserve a (training room with PC’s) room where employees can take the survey in private. This is especially effective if you have an open seating plan (with little privacy) or employees working out in the field with little online access.
  4. Explain what was learned from prior surveys and what management did to address any deficits. Explaining how the survey kept management from fixing something that wasn’t broken is just as important as fixing something that was broken. Explain that management wants to know what employees LIKE as well as what they want to see changed. 
  5. Even if feedback is negative, explain how leadership is grateful that the company is getting participation and feedback. EG: I can be a real asshole customer when it comes to spending my hard-earned duckets with a new retailer. If I am mistreated, I won’t complain publicly. I won’t say anything to management. I just walk out quietly and won’t return to that place of business. Why should I give the retailer who treated ME badly the opportunity to fix it. Should I be doing them any favors for treating me wrong and being successful? Do they really deserve my help when I was wronged? (I am sure I am losing followers here) Negative feedback hurts, but in the end, no feedback will kill. Be grateful for any feedback, positive or negative. (Yeah, I can be a jerk)
  6. Accept negative comments with grace. If we ask for feedback, we need to accept that not all of the feedback is going to be constructive. Some of the participants may not yet have the corporate maturity to explain a situation with tact and provide potential solutions. Some comments may be downright hurtful, but if we are going to ask for feedback, we should be prepared to listen. Try not to let the few negative Nellies taint the experience.
  7. There are companies that will include a number of competencies in their annual review and grade these competencies on a scale of 1-5 per the below:

1. Unacceptable

2. Sometimes meets expectations

3. Meets Expectations

4. Sometimes exceeds expectations

5. Far Exceeds Expectations

For many companies, the philosophy is that a rating of “Far Exceeds Expectations” is reserved for a rock star in that single particular competency. These same companies will make a blanket statement that NO EMPLOYEE should receive a “Far Exceeds Expectations” rating scale in all company competencies. If an employee receives a “5, Far Exceeds Expectations” in all competencies, it is assumed the manager is being too easy on the review. Not everyone will agree with this philosophy (I personally do) but as long as all of the managers are on board with the same philosophy, than the bar is consistent and the reviews are all relative across the enterprise. This rating philosophy gives employees real opportunities to improve and forces managers to grow and provide constructive feedback. We can have an employee that is rated very well within multiple competencies but has opportunities for growth in a single competency. Companies are no different and leaders should recognize this. 

If the leadership team is not going to give “Far Exceeds Expectations” across all the competencies that employees are judged on, then guess what! Leadership should not expect to receive high grades across all of the survey questions. I won’t go this far, but one could say the following:

An investment in the training of competency review’s and how they work could result in more consistency as employees answer company survey questions. 

When the results of the survey come back, share results that are not personally identifiable with employees. Comments may not have names associated with them, but the employee that wrote it anonymously will feel like they have a big target on their back when it is out for all to see. For this reason, we scrub the comments. Hold a Brown Bag session where leadership or HR explains what was discovered. In addition, hold a second session that explains the next steps. Some things that could be explained in this next session:

  • “We are not going to change “x”. We didn’t think that employees cared for the company picnic when attendance dropped and were going to cancel it this year. Based on the feedback, we have been holding the event at the wrong venue. We will have the picnic and change the venue”
  • “We are going to review the benefits program. A lot of employees shared that they want a 401K. We are not sure if we can afford one just yet, but we will run the numbers and let folks know how we can make it work or what it would take to make it work. We may not match funds to start, but we will look into a program.”
  • Management doesn’t support career development. This one is a bit of a surprise for us. We talked about it amongst the leadership team and none of us has been asked for any type of training. We are not sure if we need to provide individual coaching or traditional training courses. We plan to look into this and if anyone has any thoughts, please share them with us. This was a miss on our part.

If we want employees to share feedback so we can improve the workplace, we need to take steps to create an environment where feedback is welcomed. If employees are scared of turning in feedback or don’t think it is going to make a difference, then it shouldn’t surprise us when we don’t have the participation we think we deserve.

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

If you felt this post was valuable please subscribe here. I promise no spam,

“like” us on Facebook, I read all comments below. Thank you!