On the importance of sharing survey results

A few times each week, I receive a customer satisfaction survey from a company I deal with. It can be from my car dealership about my oil change, from my dentist about my kid’s last visit, or from the phone company after I called to question a charge on my bill.

I rarely respond to the surveys. In part, it’s because I prefer to spend my time doing other things that are more important to me. But more importantly, it’s because I never hear about the results of these surveys. Neither my dealership, nor my dentist, nor my phone company sends me a report showing how satisfied their customers truly are and how they intend to change based on the feedback I and others have provided. In other words, I get very little, if anything, out of the process.

This is why I find it critical for leaders to share the findings of any employee survey conducted at work. Not just the big annual or biennial employee survey but any survey, including the one we send after a short training session. It shows respect for those who took the time to answer it. It demonstrates leadership’s willingness to be transparent and vulnerable. It evidences the effort that leadership put into reviewing the answers and coming up with action plans. And it creates accountability for the execution of said plans.

It’s a great way of saying “Thank you for caring.”

Know your audience

Over the years, my kids have learned that if they come to me to complain about a sibling, they have to say “My sister kicked me!” But if they go to my wife, they have to say “My sister hurt me!” and add a few tears.

That’s because they’ve learned my distaste for bad behavior (no matter the consequences) and they know that my wife feels hurt when they are hurt (no matter the cause). It’s not that I don’t care about their feelings or that my wife doesn’t care about bad behavior, it’s just that we have different triggers.

(Needless to say, if my wife and I are both in the room when they arrive to complain, they’ll cry “My sister kicked me and it hurts!”)

Employees should be as wise when filing a complaint with their Compliance Department. That department’s main role is to address non-compliance issues, so employees should focus on that.

Raise concerns early

Ten years ago today the “Chinese Milk Scandal” broke. We learned that companies were adding melamine (used to produce plastics) to infant formula to give the appearance of higher protein content. Fifty-four thousand babies were hospitalized and 6 of them died.

This was not the result of a single employee gone mad. The scheme was well known and endorsed by management. We saw similar widespread wrongdoing at Volkswagen more recently. With Walmart in Mexico, the problem was more localized but, still, many layers of management were aware.

These cases highlight the importance of raising concerns early on. When only one employee is involved in the wrongdoing, it is easier to find an avenue to report the misconduct. But when the wrongdoer is supported by his manager, things get complicated. With each additional layer of management involved, the chances of someone speaking up goes down. Where should they go? How will they be protected?

To assist in early detection, organizations should not wait for employees to raise concerns. Every supervisor should proactively ask their direct reports if they have any concerns about how things are done in the organization. These conversations should be part of the quarterly one-on-one performance meetings.

Leave room for judgment

Think of a rule at work, any rule. It can be about when to arrive, what to wear, who needs to approve the expenses, etc.

Many of these rules were created after someone exercised poor judgment (or worse). So the solution was to remove judgment-making and impose a rule.

Do this repeatedly and soon you have a workforce that rarely has an opportunity to exercise good judgment. As a result, they get bad at it. It’s been said that when you build dummy-proof systems, only dummies will work for you.

How to make an allegation of wrongdoing

  • Keep it short. A long email with dozens of attachments will be skipped over until your E&C colleague has a bigger block of time to read everything (she is as busy as you are). Write a short teaser and you will get a quick reply asking for more details.
  • Keep it factual. If things are truly bad, facts will speak for themselves. If your E&C colleague draws a different conclusion from the facts, you can then add your opinion about them. But opening with complaints and outrage could erode your credibility.
  • Don’t confuse higher risk tolerance with unethical behavior. Some business people are willing to take on more risks than you think you would if you were in their shoes. They can usually do so without breaking the laws or violating the organization’s values. While it may look irresponsible to you, it doesn’t mean it’s unethical.

This list could be a lot longer. What else would you add?

Thinking of the impact on culture

Would any of the following activities impact your corporate culture?

  • From now on, anyone hired in the HR department has to be a licensed attorney
  • From now on, no one in the company receives a bonus unless sales targets are met
  • From now on, promotions are only given to those who have reported wrongdoing in the last 12 months

Answer: Yes, clearly.

How about these activities?

  • We will acquire a competitor
  • We will open our first international office
  • We will reach new markets by using sales intermediaries

Surprisingly, many business leaders will not contemplate the effect of these activities on their corporate culture.

Now, how about these activities?

  • Setting the budget
  • Implementing a new ERP system
  • Outsourcing the manufacturing of a key component

Getting more nebulous, right?

Yet, everything we do impacts the culture. Culture is an outcome of our processes, of how things are really done.

So the next time you set about to make any change in your organization, know that it will impact the culture in some way.

It always does.


HT to Rich Bohan