The CEO of a company operating in a highly-competitive industry with high-maintenance clients who demand 24 x 7 availability and near-instant responsiveness sought employee feedback to foster an environment in which the team could work productively and consistently provide excellent customer care.

The CEO distributed an anonymous “culture survey” to employees, requesting candid feedback in support of “creating a fun and relaxed atmosphere where people love coming to work.” In addition, it was an outreach for “creating an environment where people collaborate, are challenged to work hard and improve, and are accountable to themselves, the team and customers.”

Traditionally, this CEO had adopted an “up or out” approach to individual success. Employees who flourished were those most agreeable to being at the beck and call of their boss and customers, and who regarded collaboration as “borrowing” their peers’ ideas to further individual success. (This was hardly the healthiest of work environments!)

When survey responses came back, but before the data could be considered thoughtfully, the CEO impulsively sent two emails:

  • To the Management Team: Regarding personal time-off days (employees receive one day per month plus 10 days of vacation and holidays): “So funny how different perceptions are to days off! I am so sick of hearing about how (employees) aren’t able to take time off. Why don’t they see it from my point of view? I am always covering for their sorry butts.”
  • To All Employees: “I am connected 24 x 7 as are some of you, which is awesome, and it probably meshes with your personality (all Type ‘A’s’ please raise your hands). But there are others that like ‘their’ time, and that is great, too! No one is judging whether you did or didn’t respond to an email sent at 10 pm. Please try to understand everyone has their own work habits and you should be focused on being secure in yours and doing the best job you can.”

Working as a consultant with this company, I was privy to both emails. I immediately recognized the disconnect between the CEO’s responses and his stated desire to build a healthy culture.

While on paper the days-off policy sounds great, the CEO’s response suggests the intent of the policy is to lure people in only to discourage/judge them later for wanting time off. And when someone says “no one is judging you,” beware! Statements such as “I am connected 24 x 7” and “there are others who like ‘their’ time” are implicitly judgmental. Similarly, the shout out to “Type A’s” implies non-acceptance of others.

Great leaders need to realize if they ask for feedback from their employees, they must be sincere about it and take honest feedback into consideration. Repercussions for insincerity can be disastrous. Employee motivation immediately evaporates and you create greater problems than simply having to field assorted complaints.

If you reach out for feedback, view surveys as opportunities. They need not be long and arduous: one page and 10 or 12 questions will suffice.

Here are some sample questions to get you started:

1. On a scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest), indicate your agreement with the following:

  • You are clear about the company’s vision, mission and tactics.
  • You feel your ideas/suggestions regarding clients are heard and supported.
  • The organization has met your expectations as stated during recruiting and hiring.
  • You continue to trust and are confident management is making appropriate decisions.
  • You feel you can take time off without being judged.
  • You are satisfied with…
    • your compensation package
    • the company’s medical/life/dental insurance
    • the company’s 401(K)
    • total days-off offered

2. What three words best describe company culture?

3. How would you improve company culture?

4. What makes working here better or worse than other places?

5. Do you receive adequate feedback about your strengths and weaknesses?

6. Do you have the tools/skills necessary to do your job? If not, how would you improve this?

7. Do you receive adequate recognition for your work?

8. Do you feel you have opportunities to grow professionally?

9. Are there additional benefits or memberships (gym, yoga, daycare) you would like to see offered?

Be clear about your organization’s expectations and values, and then assemble a team capable of delivering the goods. If you really want to build your dream team, be sincere in your efforts to solicit and then use employee feedback. Otherwise, if you don’t want to hear the answers, don’t ask the questions. As the great leader Vince Lombardi–referring to his players that won five NFL championships, and a record three in a row that stands today–stated, “Once you win their hearts, they’ll follow you everywhere.”

The choice is yours!

Stuart Friedman is president of Progressive Management Associates. He is a business visionary who guides organizations through cultural shifts. He promotes environments that inspire collaboration, transparency in the pursuit of strategic outcomes and heart-felt desires. Reach Stuart via email: stuart@pma-co.com