“Hey, can you hear me up there?”

Tom Varian asked me to comment on how to assess employee attitudes towards their leaders and how to develop personal connections between employees and CEOs and other leaders, with whom they may never personally interact.  It’s an interesting topic and brings up a few issues:

1)    Do employees who feel a close connection to senior leaders perform better?  Are they more satisfied on the job?

2)    Does such a connection give senior leaders “credits” in case they have to deliver bad news (e.g., layoffs)?

3)    Does such a perceived connection lead to higher senior leader satisfaction?

The two primary methods to assess employee attitudes towards leaders are through surveys and focus groups/interviews.  Surveys allow many people to provide anonymous feedback on a variety of issues.  There are several online programs that make these types of surveys easy to administer.  Focus groups normally only allow for a sample of people to provide their input (unless you’ve got a BIG budget), but the depth of information can be greater as the focus group facilitator can delve into areas more deeply.

One important rule about assessing employee attitudes:  Don’t ask questions about things that management is not willing to change.  Put another way, you shouldn’t ask employees whether they like the color of the walls unless you’re prepared to buy some paint.

To Tom’s question about how to develop a connection between employees and senior leader, the onus is on the leader to either create these opportunities or to communicate with employees in a way that will allow them to feel connected.  Employee seeking to create such a relationship will be viewed suspiciously.  Co-workers may see them as a brown-nose and most company cultures lead managers to frown upon communications that skip rows in the organizational chart.  In building the relationship, consider how much charisma the senior leader has.  We’ve all heard the expression when meeting a famous person or leader that s/he, “Made me feel like I was the only person in the room.”  Some people have this and some don’t.  However, people also develop connections with others who they can relate to or feel have related to them.  If someone is working behind a counter at a retail chain and the Sr. VP can look them in the eye and put together a few sentences and questions that related to them or their work, s/he can make that connection.  We see politicians succeed and fail at this all of the time.

Senior leaders don’t have (or make) many opportunities to meet employees in person.  How else can s/he create opportunities for employees to connect with them?  I’m not a communications expert, but I would suggest creating different opportunities to do so through a variety of media (e-mail, video, etc).  By different opportunities, I mean that they should not just communicate about the stock price or the company’s direction.  Rather, they should be seen with their families, at ball games, charity events, company picnics (dressed like everybody else), etc.  When they do talk about business related issue, candor is the key.  No one believes a perfectly rosy scenario.  Be specific about how the events will affect the business and the people working there.  How a leader communicates not only affects the connection employees have with him/her, but also sets the tone for the company’s culture.

I’ve worked for companies where the president/CEO was revered (sometimes in an almost cult-like fashion) and others where that person was an abstraction to the employees.  I don’t think there is a correlation between job performance and this perceived personal connection.  However, I will say that there was a lot more employee engagement when this was the case and there’s some scholarly research which backs up this observation.

When I’ve done employee surveys of companies, higher level management usually gets higher ratings than first line supervision.  Why?  Because the employees don’t normally have a “warts and all” relationship with senior management.  In surveys where employees feel connected to a senior leader, the ratings are through the roof.  This is another example of high engagement, which partially comes from feeling connected to senior leaders.

Interestingly, the effects of engagement on leader satisfaction have not been researched.  I would think that higher employee engagement would lead to higher leader satisfaction in that engagement is related to several aspects of organizational performance.  Also, who doesn’t want to be liked?

Thanks for the question, Tom!

For more information on leadership and talent management, please contact Warren at 310 670-4175 or [email protected]

Assessment Success: Eye of the Beholder

Many actions have unintended consequences.  Assessment programs are no exception.  When conducting assessments for development, most companies are looking to provide useful feedback to employees and to get them on the road to performance improvement.  But other things have been known to occur, including:

Positive Internal Movement.  After providing feedback, people may come back and say, “Now that I know what’s really expected in this job, maybe I belong somewhere else.”  Besides requiring a lot of guts, this type of statement also reflects tremendous insight and is an opportunity for the company to retain a potentially valuable employee who is not being properly utilized.

Resolution of Employee Conflict.  A client recently indicated that he thought an assessment program was a particular success.  Was it because they had made better hires?  Or that the supervisors had improved so much?  No.  Rather, there was one supervisor who thought that his negative performance reviews were due to his race, not his actual performance.  Having a third party evaluate his skills and abilities apparently convinced him that he wasn’t being picked on, but really needed to improve.  The client indicated that the problems and conflicts with this supervisor were drastically reduced.

Improved Morale.  A frequent finding with employee engagement surveys is that people want more training and development.  Putting people through an assessment program for development (and following-through with the development) shows them that the company is investing in them.  Clients indicate that this leads to increase commitment and loyalty.

Fortunately, we are not always as smart as we think we are when anticipating the outcomes of programs we implement.  While it is important to consider potential negative consequences (e.g., what happens when there is assessment for development but no resources to back it up), be open to other good things that may come from evaluating the skills and abilities of your employees.

For more information on pre-employment testing, skills assessment, employee engagement, and talent management, please contact Warren at 310 670-4175 or [email protected]

Surveys – Confidential or not?

Some surveys (like 360s or those that measure employee engagement) are conducted in confidence, meaning that you only share group level data, and not individual responses, with others.  Other surveys, such as those given to customers or asking group members for suggestions may not be.  Under the latter condition, what level of confidentiality do you owe the participants?

First and foremost, you want to make the level of confidentiality very clear before giving the survey.  In some cases, people are asked to give up any confidentiality (please give us your name if you’d like to be contacted).  In others, the lack of confidentiality is explicitly given up (in which projects would you like to be involved?).  Additionally, let people know how the data is going to be used before asking them to give up their confidentiality.

However, even when confidence is given up, there are other factors to be considered before you would share results by name with others in the organization.  Are the person’s responses to the survey offensive or mean-spirited?  Does it appear that the person thought that the comments would be made in confidence?

Remember, confidence implies trust.  Use your judgment when protecting it.

For more information on 360 feedback, employee engagement, and talent management, please contact Warren at 310 670-4175 or [email protected]

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