Category Archives: employee communication

Employees as Social Ambassadors

Though the 2015 18th Annual HR Tech Conference in Las Vegas is behind us now, and early plans are already under way for next 488576383 -- social mediayear’s conference in Chicago, one session from Las Vegas that didn’t get written up on this site deserves to be.

In a Tuesday (Oct. 20) afternoon session, titled Tapping Employees as Social Ambassadors to Strengthen and Grow Your Workforce, Laurie Zaucha, vice president of HR and organizational development for Rochester, N.Y.-based Paychex; and Joe Schaeffer, Paychex’s social-media program manager, double-teamed on a pretty interesting story about how their company turned its employee-engagement levels and employer-brand awareness around with social media.

About five years ago, the term “Paychex Proud” was a little-known theme of an internal company meeting, one intended to grow engagement levels — or at least start the conversation about doing so — but one that wasn’t getting enough attention.

That all changed in early 2014, when Paychex’s HR and marketing forces launched their first small-business jobs index by taking over the Times Square Nasdaq tower in New York and asking employees to do simple show-and-tells (postings that were then aired) on the tower about what made them “Paychex Proud.”

The effort, said Schaeffer, required a good bit of encouragement. Like in many companies, he said, “people didn’t even think they were allowed to go on social sites,” let alone submit posts during business hours.

But submit some did. And as more caught on, and saw the images of Paychex employees broadcast for all New Yorkers to see, posts started flowing in, resulting in 200 overall and reaching 300,000 users.

“The goal was to get that word out,” said Zaucha, “that people at Paychex truly do have fun, that we’re a fun place to work.”

Next on the agenda was the company’s 2014 Paychex Sales Conference, where Zaucha and Schaeffer and their teams were able to enlist the social-media posting energies of HR and marketing staff, and attendees — again, to tell their stories and champion their company as a fun place to work — to the point where, by week’s end, the campaign boasted 2.5 million impressions and more than 1,400 posts.

By encouraging postings about Paychex on all social-media sites, including even Pinterest, said Schaeffer, “we’re seeing our sales people actually becoming more educated about our company; they’re now following us on Twitter and it is a happening.”

Through these two efforts, not only have engagement figures skyrocketed (from 56 percent of people saying they were highly engaged in 2012 to 63 percent saying the same in 2015), but the company’s Instagram, Facebook and Twitter followers have also multiplied exponentially.

“If you can figure out a way to harness the art of marketing [into your HR efforts] and have highly engaged employees,” Schaeffer said, “they really can be ambassadors for the company.”


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The Power of the ‘Open’ Organization

For Jim Whitehurst, one of the defining moments of his career came back in 2005 when, as COO of Delta Air Lines, he had to explain the airline’s strategy for re-emerging from its just-declared bankruptcy to a roomful of airplane mechanics who — as part of the company’s cost-cutting moves — would most likely be losing their jobs soon.

“I started off by telling them I was sorry,” said Whitehurst, who’s now CEO of Red Hat, the software company that makes the open-source Linux operating system, during the closing keynote at this year’s HR Tech conference in Las Vegas today. “Then I explained to them Delta’s strategy for how it would emerge from bankruptcy and what it would take for us to get there. It was the same speech I’d been giving to bankers in New York during the previous four weeks in trying to secure loans for us. But I’d never given it to any of our employees.”

At first, the mechanics sat in stunned silence. Then, they began peppering Whitehurst with questions: How could we get planes ready faster? How could we balance schedules to make this happen?

“These were really detailed, intelligent questions they were asking,” said Whitehurst. “So I went back to my hotel and the next morning I’m getting calls from people asking, ‘What did you do? People can’t stop talking about this.'”

He went and gave similar speeches to other groups of Delta employees, explaining the company’s turnaround plan and what needed to be done to realize it. Then an interesting thing happened: Despite the cutbacks and deferred equipment upgrades necessitated by the bankruptcy, Delta’s performance began to surge. It went from last place to first in on-time performance, and remained there for the next two years.

“All I did was tell people the context of what they needed to do,” said Whitehurst. “I tied the work they were doing to the overall strategy of the company and let them do what they needed to do to get the job done. This can be done in any organization.”

Whitehurst explains his philosophy in his new book, The Open Organization, which recounts his experiences at Delta and Red Hat. He believes the management structure of most organizations today is outmoded — it comes from a time when efficiency, not speed and innovation, was the top priority. But today’s managers must also be leaders, he said, and this can be enabled by technology. Most employees these days have much more education than did the workers of yesteryear, when the management science most companies still abide by was formulated. The top-down organizational structure is obsolete, he said.

So what should replace it? At Red Hat, a “bottom up” model is in place, where employees feel free to share their thoughts and disagreements with managers. “Red Hat can actually be a harsh place to work because of this, but constructive conflict is far preferable to a ‘terminally nice’ organization, where people simply avoid confronting the problems facing a company until it ultimately dies,” said Whitehurst.

Passion rules the day at Red Hat, where many employees have tattoos of the company’s logo, he said. Managers there are expected to be leaders, helping employees understand how their everyday work supports the strategy. “At Red Hat, we always start with ‘why are we doing this?'” said Whitehurst. “It enables managers to do much greater things.”

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Amazon Really, Really Wants Employee Input

You may have seen that is back in the news.

Roughly two months ago, a stinging New York Times report characterized the work environment at the Seattle-based online retail giant as one where employees were often held to unreasonable standards, occasionally reduced to tears and essentially rewarded for undermining their peers.

More recently, though, Amazon has made headlines for its attempt to connect in a meaningful way with these same workers, and solicit more frequent input with regard to their job satisfaction, leadership opportunities within the organization and more.

In expanding its Amazon Connections program, the company is now posing daily—that’s right, daily—questions on these and other job-related topics to white-collar employees. (Amazon started the program with blue-collar workers in its fulfillment centers in 2014, and has been introducing Connections to other departments throughout the past year, according to Bloomberg Business.)

The responses that Amazon collects will be evaluated by teams in Seattle and Prague, who will compile daily reports to share with the company, according to the Bloomberg piece, which notes that individual employees’ answers and comments “aren’t anonymous, but are shared only with members of the Connections team, and the reports will contain only aggregated data.”

Amazon is clearly making a concerted effort to improve its employee experience, regardless of how much its workplace does or doesn’t resemble the soul-crushing corporate hellscape some envisioned after reading the aforementioned Times piece. But is asking employees to complete these quasi-surveys every day overcompensating? Will workers welcome the chance to share their two cents so often, or will they begin to look at providing constant feedback as a chore?

I put these questions to Katalin Takacs-Haynes, an assistant professor of strategic management at the A. Lerner College of Business and Economics at the University of Delaware.

As is the case with any other new initiative, there are pros and cons, she says.

“On the plus side, it’s great that Amazon realizes it needs to address the issues raised in the [Times article], and is trying to address the issue by initiating internal communication with the employees,” says Haynes. “Also on the plus side, the fact that special teams in Seattle and Prague are going to compile an anonymous report might encourage employees to provide feedback openly.”

While said reports are anonymous, employee responses are not, however.

That, she says, could be a problem.

“This can raise concerns in some employees who might be afraid that sharing their opinions openly will lead to retaliation,” says Haynes. “Job security might be a concern for some who feel that being too open … appears as being critical and leads to termination or lack of promotion.”

Ultimately, the biggest concern for Amazon is that “[despite] its best intentions, it might not get the honest and open answers it’s looking for.”

The expansion of Amazon Connections may well be a reaction to the Times report, “particularly since Jeff Bezos seems to have taken that very personally,” adds Rita Gunther McGrath, associate professor of management at the Columbia Business School in New York.

But, regardless of why Amazon implemented it, the program could wind up being an effective communication tool, especially among millennial employees “who thrive on little bits of quick interaction and feedback, rather than a ponderous annual review process,” says McGrath.

“It also functions as an accelerator of information flows and a way of assessing how significant an issue is,” she says. “If one person says it, it may well be a fluke. If 1,000 people say it, it’s a meaningful issue.”

So, with all that said, and the potential plusses and minuses tallied, should we expect to see similar programs popping up in other organizations?

“A few companies might jump on the bandwagon,” says Haynes. “However, unless a company is in the spotlight like Amazon was, it lacks a legitimate reason to institute such a high-profile feedback system. Such a system can be irritating to employees and reflect a misuse of resources such as employee time and human capital in exchange for information of questionable quality.”

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Connecting Work to a Higher Purpose at KPMG

musclesAccounting — perhaps not the world’s most exciting profession, but that’s not to say it hasn’t had its moments in history. Accountants, after all, helped manage the Lend-Lease Act during World War II that helped defeat Nazi Germany. They helped resolve financial conflicts that enabled the agreement to free the Iran hostages in 1981, and they certified the election of Nelson Mandela in South Africa in 1994.

The accountants cited above all happened to work for KPMG. Now, the firm is using these and other stories from its past to ramp up employee engagement by connecting their work to a higher purpose, writes Bruce N. Pfau, KPMG’s vice chair of HR and communications, in a new post on the Harvard Business Review’s website.

In connecting to a “higher purpose,” Pfau cites the (possibly apocryphal) story of President Kennedy and the janitor at Cape Canaveral: When JFK asked the janitor “What do you do?” the janitor replied, “Mr. President, I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”

Citing research showing that connecting their work to a higher purpose motivates employees to go the extra mile, KPMG began an initiative last year “aimed at inspiring our already high-morale workforce to reach new levels of engagement by reframing and elevating the meaning and purpose of their work,” writes Pfau.

Pfau’s team created a video that highlighted great moments from KPMG’s past, such as the aforementioned accomplishments, with the theme “We Shape History!” Next, they created posters with the slogan “We Champion Democracy,” with the goal of helping employees see themselves as part of a profession that helps societies by enabling families to make better financial decisions.

Finally, the team presented KPMG’s employees with a challenge: Create 10,000 digital posters that celebrate the work you or your team does. Employees would receive two extra paid days off if the goal was met by Thanksgiving; that goal was met before July 4 and, by Thanksgiving, 42,000 stories had been submitted.

One year after the initiative began, Pfau writes, the percentage of employees who agreed that KPMG is a great place to work went from 85 percent to 89 percent on its engagement surveys, 60 percent said the initiative had strengthened their pride in KPMG, and the firm jumped 17 spots on Fortune‘s 100 Best Companies to Work list to become the highest-ranked Big Four firm for the first time in its history.

One problem Pfau encountered was that, although a key ingredient to success appeared to be managers’ willingness to talk to their teams about the positive impact of the work they did, some managers did not do this. The difference was noticeable: The turnover rate within the group whose managers talked to them about purpose was 5.6 percent, versus 9.1 percent within  the group whose managers did not do this.

In response, Pfau incorporated “purpose storytelling training” into KPMG’s leadership development programs. The training certainly appears to have been effective in one example he writes about: In speaking to a group of 1,500 interns about her higher purpose, a partner who’d gone through the training concluded with a parable about three bricklayers restoring a church — when asked what they were doing, one bricklayer replied “I’m laying bricks,” another replied “I’m repairing a wall” and the third replied “I’m building a cathedral to The Almighty.”

“So,” the partner concluded, “do you want to be bricklayers or cathedral builders?” The crowd leaped to their feet, writes Pfau.

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On HR Leaders and the Strength of Love

dv1080014I am feeling very compelled to share this with you at this time. I had seen this post on the HRExaminer site a while back, but what I’ve just been through personally has been bringing it front-of-mind in a very big way.

The piece, by Jason Seiden, co-founder and CEO of Brand Amper, addresses love. Specifically, as his title makes plain, “Love: Why Tomorrow’s Leaders Will Come from HR.”

If I had to interpret his overriding theme, I guess it would be that the people he knows in HR are better at real friendships and real relationships than people in any other profession he knows. And it’s because of that ability on the part of HR professionals to really connect with fellow humans who are doing, or going through, human things that the future of business rests — in his estimation — in their hands.

“They’re the best group of people you could want to be surrounded by,” he writes. “They get it: Success in business doesn’t come from technology. It may come through tech, but it comes from relationships.” He goes on:

“If you want to see the future of business leadership, look at the nexus of social HR and recruiting. I know HR gets (and often deserves) a bad rap, but the smaller circle of social HR leaders — the ones who share aspects of their lives with each other online, get together at conferences, and support one another’s businesses — have what [one] former friend and others actually crave: genuine connection.

“This HR group understands that sending a ‘happy birthday’ note on Facebook isn’t about pretending to be friends; it’s about knowing what it feels like to open your phone to 100+ birthday messages and wanting to be small part of that avalanche of love for someone else.”

We may not be HR professionals here at HRE; we may only write about your profession. But I can at least tell you Seiden’s onto something about the heart of business running on authentic relationships, not the manufactured or rhetorical ones.

The day I left on a recent extended leave to see my father through his final life journey after he bravely chose to cease all cancer treatment because it had failed, I received the kind of love Seiden describes. I did my best to leave my HRE house in order, knowing how my forethought would help my friends.

The love and support, and hugs, I received here as I set out on that heart-wrenching journey — to my father’s journey — spoke volumes to me about the power of friendship and relationships to lay enduring foundations in any environment where people work together toward a common goal.

Likewise, the kindness, patience and understanding I’ve received since my return one week ago today solidifies this sense of power that human connection has in the workplace.

People are, indeed, our most valued resources — an idea that’s still catching on here in corporate America, but seems to be taking hold in the United Kingdom, according to this intriguing piece posted on HREOnline today by our talent-management columnist, Wharton professor Peter Cappelli.

And this value isn’t just reflected in higher wages or paid leave, as the U.K. initiatives Cappelli talks about seem focused on. It’s reflected — at least I think it is — in workplace cultures, and in the courage of managers and HR leaders to show some heart on their pathways to becoming better business partners and leaders.

If any of you in HR are waiting for permission to lead with the love Seiden says is your strong suit, you certainly have mine.

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With Union Petitions Up, Get Your Message Out … NOW!

Since sharing this blog post the day before the National Labor Relations Board’s “quickie-election rules” went into effect on April Union14, I’ve been waiting to see if the predictions shared therein would come to pass.

More specifically, would there be — as predicted by various employment attorneys I talked to — a surge in the number of representation petitions filed with the NLRB by unions just waiting for those rules to help them hurry up their process?

Well, I just got confirmation from NLRB spokesperson Jessica Kahanek that there’s been a 32-percent spike in union petitions lodged with her agency in one month since the rule’s enactment. Broken down, that’s 212 petitions from March 13 to April 13 and 280 from April 14 to May 14. An impressive and additional 104 petitions were filed between May 14 and May 27, she tells me. Spike indeed!

Kahanek also notes that elections are now taking place — on average — 23 days from the date of the petition. This duration is a dramatic shift from the 38-day average that existed under the previous rule.

What’s also interesting to note is that the petitions didn’t come flooding in starting on April 14. On the contrary, says Steve Bernstein, a Tampa, Fla.-based labor attorney with Fisher & Phillips, “in the first two weeks after the rule, the numbers of petitions filed were flat, maybe even down some; only in the last two to three weeks have we been seeing them really climbing.”

So what does that mean? It means even the unions needed some time to figure out all the new procedures contained in the new rules. “It’s been a learning curve for everyone,” Bernstein says.

What it all really means — to employers — is now’s the time to talk up your company and make no bones about stressing with employees that it’s a better place to work communicating directly with management than through third-party representation.

Bernstein calls this “front-loading the message.”

Employers, he says, “have the opportunity to use this [albeit shorter] period of time to take the initiative away from the union.”

Some companies, in fact, are getting ready for the NLRB before the NLRB even comes knocking. They’re getting all the new data being asked for — employee emails, phone numbers, work histories, job classifications, etc. — collected and collated now “so they’re positioned to be standing on ‘Go’ when the petition arrives and can use all their time getting their message out,” says Bernstein. He recommends that you:

“start from the standpoint that, with the new rules, comes a new petition form giving unions the opportunity to request the earliest election dates possible, usually two weeks out. So you, the employer, can posit the question, ‘Why is this union trying to move so fast on something so important to your lives and the lives of your families as this?’ “

In terms of the new administrative and disclosure requirements contained in the rules, he says, rather than focusing only on scrambling around trying to meet them all, think about taking this approach:

“In many circles, the kind of employee data they’re now demanding from employers would look like an invasion of privacy. So you can put out the immediate message, ‘They’re not even here yet and look at the personal information they already want on you. Why do they want all this from us?’ “

In other words, the NLRB has changed the rules, so you can too. (FYI, my earlier post, linked above, contains the NLRB’s position and purpose in the rule changes.)

You don’t even have to wait for a petition to start the conversation. In addition to getting all your data ducks lined up, you can join with the many companies Bernstein is already seeing “embracing the notion that it’s OK to talk about this, now, with employees,” sooner than later, he says.

Nothing wrong with telling your employees, “Let’s have this union dialogue now,” he says, especially in businesses and industries where unions are dominant. Some companies are even fashioning tailored, customized videos along these lines to go with their orientation processes, i.e., why no union is better than representation.

“You’re really trying to establish this line of communication, getting them used to hearing about this, so it doesn’t just sound like a defensive move after the petition has arrived,” Bernstein says.

So, to recap, your message to them: “Hey, it’s OK to talk about this now, folks!”

And my message to you: Ditto.

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What Workers Want and How to Supply It

As most of you embark on your first official work day of 2015, and Bruce-Tulgan-New-Photo-June-2014-200x300just in case a New Year’s resolution was to treat your employees even better this year than last, I thought I’d start you off with some suggestions from workplace and demographic expert Bruce Tulgan.

As I noted in this earlier (summertime) blog post about his recent book, The 27 Challenges Managers Face, Tulgan, CEO and founder of New Haven, Conn.-based management consultancy RainmakerThinking Inc., is pretty authoritative when it comes to employer-employee relationships.

In this more recent post, What Employees Want and How to Give It to Them, Tulgan once again relies on his and Rainmaker’s more than 20 years of research into workplaces and manager-employee relationships to give you these “key elements of every job that employees typically care about,” he says.

As he puts it in the post:

“You want to be generous and flexible with your employees. Why wouldn’t you? Everybody is working harder. Everybody is under more pressure. Everybody needs more than what they are getting.

If you are the boss, one of the most important parts of your job is taking care of your people. Remember, people work to take care of themselves and their families. They want your help. Some managers consistently do more for their employees. If you’re not one of those managers, what is your problem?”

He’s not the only one stressing the importance of treating workers with respect and helping them develop — especially as more millennials and Gen Zers enter the workforce. But he’s one of the few with this much research behind what he recommends.

So here’s Tulgan’s list of what employees really care about:

  1. The ability to earn more money. This is all about the compensation package. What is the base pay and the value of the benefits? How much of the pay is fixed? How much is contingent on clear performance benchmarks tied directly to concrete actions the individual employee can control? What are the levers for driving the pay up or down?
  2. More control over their own schedules. What is the default schedule? How much flexibility is there? What are the levers for achieving more or less scheduling flexibility?
  3. Relationships at work. Who will the employee be working with? Which vendors, customers, co-workers, subordinates, and managers? What are the levers for controlling who the employee has a chance to work with (and/or avoid)?
  4. Task choice. Which regular tasks and responsibilities will the employee be assigned to do? How much of it is “grunt work” (tedious or otherwise difficult recurring tasks)? Are there any special projects? What are the levers for controlling the employee’s opportunities to work on more choice tasks, responsibilities or projects?
  5. Learning opportunities. What basic skills and knowledge will the employee be learning in order to handle his basic tasks and responsibilities? Will there be any special learning opportunities? What are the levers for controlling access to those special learning opportunities?
  6. Location and workspace. Where will the employee be located? How much control will the employee have over his workspace? Will there be much travel? Are there opportunities to be transferred to other locations? What are the levers for controlling these location issues? Within a given workspace, how much latitude will the employee have to customize his/her immediate surroundings?

Tulgan says the key to making these desires work for you has a whole lot to do with how you leverage them, as bargaining chips. He offers these examples:

  • “You don’t want to work on Thursday? I’m glad to know that. Here’s what I need from you by Wednesday at midnight.”

  • “You want your own office? Here’s what I need from you.”

  • “You want to bring your dog to work? Great. Here’s what I need from you.”

  • “You want to have lunch with the senior VP? Here’s what I need from you.”

“When managers are able to [leverage employee desires and business needs like this],” Tulgan says, “they are giving the employee control over [his or] her rewards by spelling out exactly what [he or] she needs to do to earn them.

“In exchange,” he says, “the employee will probably be willing to do a lot [more] — to work longer, harder, smarter, faster or better” — while getting a valuable and immediate reward in return.

Sure, you can say all this is intuitive, but I would counter with, “then why aren’t more employers doing it?”

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Starting the Ultimate Conversation

Last holiday season, I posted a piece on this blog about what employers should do when employees come to them with news that 465319021 -- difficult conversationthey are dying. It featured advice from Lynne Curry, president of Anchorage, Alaska-based The Growth Co., who stressed the importance — for employers, and HR and benefits professionals — of going over plans and benefits with any and all employees who come to them with such difficult information.

Recently, it seems, The Dow Chemical Co. took that discussion many steps further by partnering with a company called The Conversation Project. Founded by journalist Ellen Goodman, the project offers a step-by-step guide, called the Conversation Starter Kit, designed to carry managers, HR professionals, family members and loved ones through what I would call the ultimate conversation.

The idea to offer such a project and kit to her employees came to Dr. Cathy Baase, global director of health services at Midland, Mich.-based Dow, when she heard Goodman speak at a health conference about her own experiences as her mother’s caregiver and healthcare decision-maker for many years, and her resulting mission to change the way Americans talk about and deal with death.

As Goodman shared then, had she had conversations with her mother before dementia impaired her ability to share her desires, she might have felt more secure in making the decisions she faced.

Dr. Baase was driven by her own experiences as well, not only in seeing employees through this difficult time, but having engaged her own family to talk early, and often, about their mother’s chronic illness. She and her older sister, a nurse, were the forces behind the bi-weekly and sometimes weekly conference calls they would have with their two younger brothers, committed to staying on the same page about their mother’s care until she passed.

“Having these conversations actually made us closer as a family,” says Dr. Baase. “We knew how things were going and what to expect in the future, and we talked through everything until we came to an agreement. It did make things easier — although these things are never completely easy.”

With the help of The Conversation Project, Dow has begun a focused effort to educate employees and retirees about the merits of getting it all out in the open. Information about the project is now on the Dow internal website and has been distributed at retiree-health fairs.

The company also sponsored two webinars for its employees, retirees and staff, and its magazine, Dow Friends, which reaches more than 50,000 retirees in the United States and Canada, featured an article on the effort. It also shot a video recently for use in meetings and promotions, and plans are under way to hold role-playing events to help people break the ice and initiate these conversations at home.

“If we can help Dow employees be less stressed, more comforted and at peace,” says Dr. Baase, “then that leads to less distraction and a break from worry. … We have a history of confronting challenging problems that affect our society, and end-of-life care is an extension of that.”

Mega kudos to Dow, Dr. Baase and the project.

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Does Being a Jerk Really Work?

work jerkA good leader knows when to be forceful and when to use finesse.

Of course, some have to fight their naturally aggressive impulses in delicate situations, while others must dig deep to find their inner Type A traits when the circumstances call for assertiveness.

A pair of laboratory studies outlined in a recent Journal of Business and Psychology article contrasted uncompromising approaches with more diplomatic methods in the workplace , and when each may be best, in terms of sharing and utilizing original ideas at work.

College professors Samuel Hunter and Lily Cushenbery sought to “investigate the relationship between lower levels of agreeableness (i.e., disagreeableness) and [the] innovation process, such as idea generation, promotion and group utilization, as well as potential contextual moderators of these relationships.”

Or, in plain English, the researchers essentially wanted to find out if being kind of a jerk helps one to spawn and advance ideas in the workplace.

The overarching theme emerging from both studies seems to be that obnoxiousness doesn’t necessarily give birth to brilliant ideas, but it may help coerce colleagues into buying what you’re selling.

That’s according to the findings of Hunter, an assistant professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University, and Cushenbery, an assistant professor of management and director of the Leadership & Conflict Research Lab at Stony Brook University.

In their first study, 201 college students completed personality tests before strategizing together, in groups of three, to develop a marketing campaign. The authors found no real connection between disagreeableness and the originality of ideas created, but did identify a link between unpleasantness and group utilization of ideas.

The second study placed 291 individuals in an online environment to examine the originality of ideas shared with group members after manipulating both feedback and originality of ideas generated by others, and to determine the effect that creative and supportive co-workers have on the sharing of ideas.

This analysis yielded results similar to the first, with the caveat that a bit of belligerence may actually be an asset in environments where new ideas aren’t exactly welcomed with open arms.

“Disagreeable personalities may be helpful in combating the challenges faced in the innovation process, but social context is also critical,” said Cushenbery. “In particular, an environment supportive of original thinking may negate the utility of disagreeableness and, in fact, disagreeableness may hamper the originality of ideas shared.”

Ultimately, “being a ‘jerk’ may not be directly linked to who generates original ideas,” added Hunter, “but such qualities may be useful if the situation dictates that a bit of a fight is needed to get those original ideas heard and used by others.”

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A Finger on the Employee Pulse

employee pollWe all know that employee surveys provide very usable and valuable data. But how much employee input do you need, and how often should you be asking for it?

If a recent Wall Street Journal article is any indication, some companies are searching for the sweet spot by taking a “more (and more often) is better” approach to employee surveys.

In the piece, the paper’s Rachel Emma Silverman examines the rise of “so-called ‘pulse surveys,’ ” highlighting a few employers relying on short monthly, weekly or daily polls to “provide data on how their teams actually feel and catch problems before they fester.” (Short and frequent surveys are even replacing annual employee surveys at some organizations, says Silverman, although she notes that others—Google Inc., for instance—use a combination of both.)

For example, Limeade Inc., a Seattle-based corporate wellness firm with 115 employees, sends it people quick, one-question surveys each week, seeking feedback on issues ranging from customer service improvements to holiday party ideas.

Workers answer anonymously, and the results are discussed at bi-weekly company meetings. Limeade CEO Henry Albrecht told the Journal these polls revealed that the firm’s remote workers were generally less happy than those working from headquarters, and the company has since invested in more teleconferencing tools to “reconnect [remote workers] with the mother ship,” according to the article.

As many as three times a week, Boston-based public relations and marketing firm Metis Communications asks employees what they are most proud of and whether they feel their managers listen to them. Rebecca Joyner, director of content services at the company, told the Journal that a pair of standing desks appeared at Metis HQ within two weeks of one such survey, which asked employees if they were happy with their office chairs.

It’s worth noting that these organizations—as well as most of the other firms included in the Journal article—are on the small side, in terms of number of employees, and pay about $50 a month or anywhere from $15 to $100 per employee for pulse-survey tools delivered by companies such as, TinyPulse, BlackbookHR and Gallup.

We’ll see if more large companies go this route, but it seems at least some are already taking similar steps to get a handle on how employees are feeling.

Sears Holding Corp., the Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based owner of Sears and Kmart, has launched Project MoodRing, an initiative designed to “record store employees’ moods at the end of their shifts,” according to WSJ.

Workers choose a color-coded emoticon on a screen, to describe how they’re feeling when they clock out, be it “unstoppable,” “so-so,” “exhausted” or “frustrated,” for instance. The article notes that Sears anticipates it will receive about 28 million daily mood responses a year, and has already found “a correlation between slightly higher sales and customer satisfaction at stores where employees are in positive moods rather than neutral or negative moods.”

While conducting surveys—even short ones—with such frequency can get repetitive and eventually begin grating on employees’ nerves, keeping the questions fresh may be one of the keys to successful employee polls.

Quirky Inc., for example, asks its approximately 150 employees about the challenges they’re facing at the moment, and who at the New York-based invention company has demonstrated great leadership in the past week, according to the Journal. Rochelle DiRe, chief people officer at Quirky Inc., told WSJ that the company has begun rotating questions more frequently, as a way to maintain employee participation and interest.

“Without some kind of variation,” says DiRe, “it can get a little bit like homework for some people.”

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