Category Archives: employee satisfaction

‘I’m Not Your Mother!’ In Defense of Happiness

Figured the day after Mother’s Day was a perfect time to run with a post I’ve been hanging on to for a while from China Gorman, then CEO of the Great Place to Work Institute, now board chair of Las 520179370 -- happy workerVegas-based management consultancy Universum North America.

Her title? “I’m Not Your Mother!”

Now before you start imagining a tough stance on the softer side of workplace culture, I’m here to tell you this is all about the importance of breeding out-and-out happiness at work. But, as Gorman writes, it took some ups and downs and ins and outs to get her to this point:

“Early in my career as a business leader, I always believed that people were my critical competitive edge and that creating a strong, caring culture was my job. But happiness? Come on. I wasn’t my employees’ mother.

“The nature of the employer/employee relationship, I believed, was a commercial relationship. Employees come to work, do a good job and I pay them. The more I could remove obstacles from their ability to do good work, the more I could offer development and thanks for a job well done, the better they performed. Its wasn’t rocket science. Treat people well and they’ll treat your employees well. I got that. But trying to make them happy? I didn’t think that was part of the deal. And I was a pretty effective business leader.”

Then she matured. She spent some time at Zappos — “a culture whose leader is all about making his workforce happy,” she says. And while the Zappos culture wouldn’t be a fit for her, “it worked for them,” she adds. “And they were happy. Really happy. And their business results were such that they could sell the business to Amazon for over $1 billion.”

Sitting atop the Great Place to Work Institute, says Gorman, she was deluged in data proving there was “a direct line from employee well-being to financial performance.” As she puts it, that’s where she took a turn:

“And so, while early in my career, the notion of employee happiness didn’t register as a leadership imperative, I now believe that creating a culture that … delivers happiness to employees is quite clearly a practical and effective way to achieve top-line growth, profitability, customer loyalty and, most importantly, employee loyalty.”

As the chair of the WorkHuman Advisory Board at Dublin, Ireland-based reward and recognition company Globoforce, Gorman also came across that company’s recent white paper, The Science of Happiness. It cites some pretty compelling research posted by the Wall Street Journal and the iOpener Institute that finds happy employees:

  • Stay twice as long in their jobs as their least-happy colleagues,
  • Believe they are achieving their potential twice as much,
  • Spend 65 percent more time feeling energized,
  • Are 58 percent more likely to go out of the way to help their colleagues,
  • Identify 98 percent more strongly with the values of their organization, and
  • Are 186 percent more likely to recommend their organization to a friend.

I love how Globoforce puts it in the paper:

“It is tempting for many to think of company culture in terms of fringe benefits — like funky offices, on-site massages and free soda. These outward trappings of companies with great culture are often what we think of when we think of Great Places to Work.

“But perks grow from culture, not the other way around. Perks are just the manifestation of what makes a particular group of people [your employees] happy. Likewise, leaders tend to see culture in terms of things they can do — like setting goals and core values. Their participation is an important part of the picture, and trust in leaders is one of the key drivers of engagement, but execs cannot dictate a great culture. They can only lay the groundwork for a great culture to take hold.

“It is your employees who control your culture. When they are happy, it thrives. If they are stomping around complaining … well, your culture probably stinks — no matter how great your mission statement is or how free your dry cleaning.”

A few things to think about as you contemplate “mothering” your workforce into an entire family of engaged, productive and happy people who support your bottom line.

Survey: Employees Only ‘Moderately’ Engaged

The good news, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s latest Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Survey, is that employee satisfaction is at its highest level in 10 years, with 88 percent of respondents saying they’re satisfied with their jobs. The bad news? The number of employees who say they plan to look outside their current company for a new job is also up, at 45 percent. SHRM announced the survey results at its Talent Management Conference in Orlando earlier this week.

The keyword for holding on to employees is spelled R-E-S-P-E-C-T: 67 percent of the 600 employees surveyed ranked “respectful treatment of all employees at all levels” as “very important” to job satisfaction, followed by overall compensation/pay and benefits, job security and “opportunities to use skills and abilities,” which tied for fifth place with “trust between employees and senior management.”

As for employee engagement, actual engagement levels are little-changed from last year’s survey, said Evren Esen, SHRM’s director of survey programs, coming in at 3.8 out of 5 with 5 being the highest, showing that employees are “moderately engaged.” Satisfaction and engagement aren’t always aligned, with engagement typically tied to employees’ connection and commitment to their work and organization, she said.

One of the top factors affecting employee engagement are the engagement level of their coworkers, said Esen. “If employees don’t see those around them as being engaged, this will impact the overall level of engagement in the organization,” she said.

Being engaged means feeling that you’re an important part of the organization’s mission, she said.

“The opportunity to use their skills and competencies is of continuing importance to employees – it gives them a sense of engagement and pride,” said Esen. HR should develop a “skills matrix” for employees to get a better sense of “what they do well, not just what they do” in their everyday jobs, she said. This will make it easier to determine if there are other ways employees could be contributing and – by extension – feel a tighter connection with the organization.

“Nobody is going to feel sustained doing the same job over and over,” she said.

Dissatisfaction with their compensation and benefits was a top reason why employees plan to look for new jobs, the survey finds. Sixty three percent of employees chose overall compensation as “very important” to them, yet only 23 percent described themselves as “very satisfied” with their own compensation. Similarly, 60 percent chose overall benefits as very important, but only 27 percent said they were very satisfied with their benefits.

“Companies have only reinstated some of the cuts to benefits they made during the Great Recession,” said Esen. “Organizations really need to focus on what benefits their employees really want, and offer the ones that appeal to all demographics of their employee base.”

HR must also keep in mind the needs of a multigenerational workforce, she said.

“Millennials want their ideas to be valued and not dismissed just because they’re younger and less-experienced,” said Esen. “Boomers want to be valued for their experience, but often feel they’re not sufficiently valued for it. It’s important to keep both groups satisfied.”

Rethinking Employer Values and Brands

Some interesting points about employer value propositions and employer brands in this recent piece by Susan LaMotte that I came 514648428 -- megaphoneacross on the HR Examiner website.

As her title makes clear, she’d like us all to start Rethinking EVP and Employer Brand Like You Never Have Before.

“We tweet, post and chat about our culture and employment experience,” she writes. “We worry about job descriptions and [applicant-tracking-system] branding. We choose just the right images for our careers site and collateral. But what exactly are we talking about?”

Here are some of her favorite descriptions, none of which really capture what makes any particular employer unique: “It’s a great place to work,” “We’ve got a great culture,”  “For me it means … ,” and “I love to work here because … .” As she puts it,

“We tend to talk in generalities and personal choices because we’re not sure what else to say sometimes. And that’s where the EVP comes in. EVPs are so often used to explain why employees work for a company. We often interchange it with employer brand. But over the years, it’s become a muddled mess. Maybe it’s time for a reset?”

First, she says, when you ask your employees what they value in their employment experience, your EVP is the sum of those common themes. Second, an employer brand is a subset of the EVP.

“If the EVP is all the things employees value,” according to LaMotte, “the employer brand is what you choose as an organization to hang your hat on when you market your employment experience.” As she describes it:

“Think about it like a new car. There are a ton of great things customers may value in the car. And things the car’s engineers think are worth touting. But the marketers at the car company know you can’t sell everything. So they have to choose. How do they choose? The same way the engineers decided what should go in the car: research. Let research be your base, then use marketing to sell.”

She goes on to lay out the best steps to take to find out what employees value most in the organization and what candidates want. Next on the list is narrowing the focus, she says:

“There are likely 10, 12, 20 themes that may comprise your EVP. Don’t try to sell a laundry list. Use your company’s core values and business strategy to narrow down your focus. And consider two key things marketers know well: You have to sell the reality [and] you have to consider what your audience wants.”

“Finally, build that brand. Once you decide what to hang your hat on, sell it over and over and over again. Weave the messages in varying ways through all those channels you’ve spent so much time on — social media, websites, job descriptions and branded platforms. Pull those messages through to job fairs, recruiter conversations and on campus. Whatever you do, just take the time to think it through.”

I ran LaMotte’s premise by the folks at the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), the Seattle-based human capital research and data firm, because much has come from that organization over the years pertaining to employer brand and EVP. Got some interesting and very thorough comments from Jay Jamrog, i4cp’s senior vice president of research:

LaMotte, he says, “correctly points out that there is a lot of confusion around the differences between employer brand, employee [and employer] value proposition and talent brand; and, they are often used interchangeably, as the article does when it trie[s] to articulate what needs to be done.”

So what does Jamrog suggest? “I believe the first step is to clearly define each term and then determine how to develop a strategy to leverage each one’s potential.” With that in mind, he says, here goes:

Employer brand:  How a business builds and packages its identity, origins and values, and what it promises to deliver to emotionally connect employees so that they, in turn, deliver what the business promises to customers.  Some of the ingredients that make up the employer brand are:

  • Company culture and history,
  • What a company stands for,
  • Work/life balance,
  • Rewards: compensation and benefits
  • Leadership and employee behaviors
  • Work environment

What to consider when developing an employer brand:

  • What employer brand you have already built?
  • How does your employer brand support your business strategy, and your talent strategy?
  • How well do your employees understand and believe in your customer brand?
  • How committed are your employees to deliver the brand to customers?

Employee [or employer] value proposition:  Articulation of the value proposition is a shorter version of the employer brand that helps potential and current workers answer the question, ‘What’s in it for me?’ In many cases, the EVP is part of the employer brand and contains many of the same characteristics.

Talent brand:  Marketing of the employer brand and/or EVP to critical talent segments of the potential and current workforce, to become known as a magnet for talent.  It’s purpose is to create demand that attracts, retains and engages the right people to do the right work at the right time with the right results.  To do this, you need to segment the workforce and determine which roles are 1) critical to the business’ success and 2) difficult skills to acquire.  Then you need to treat the talent in these critical roles as “consumers of work.” To attract consumers of work, you need a compelling brand proposition as a place to work for that special critical role/skill.

To create a talent brand you need to:

  • Have a talent strategy,
  • Develop marketing strategy,
  • Segment the workforce, and
  • Articulate your employer brand.

There you have it. Lots of definitions, descriptions and bullets in this post, but just in case it helps … or at least adds to the discussion … it’s all yours.

Why You Shouldn’t Link Culture and Retention

Here are some vexing questions on culture: Why do people leave Google, Virgin and Zappos and take jobs elsewhere? Why, if 516216924 -- worker leavingthose companies are so focused on building exceptionally strong and compelling cultures, don’t people stay forever? Doesn’t it entirely contradict all the rhetoric about the power of culture if even the bellwethers of the corporate-culture surge can’t convince people to stay?

So poses Colin J. Browne — head of a Gauteng, South Africa-based culture, engagement and leadership think-tank firm called How to Build a Happy Sandpit — in a recent post on his company’s website. In his words,

“One of the greatest misunderstandings about culture is that it has some mystical power to lock people in to your organization for the long term. If you’re building it for that, you could be wasting your efforts … .”

On the contrary, he writes,

“[t]he answer lies in what I consider one of the most fundamental hallmarks of human nature: Familiarity breeds contempt. In a work sense, Happy Sandpit research [of 308 executives and business leaders over the past three years] shows that, within about 18 months, all employees slightly resent you for ever hiring them in the first place.

“It’s not that they don’t like their work, or their workplace, their colleagues or their bosses, it’s just that when we become used to things, we’re less inclined to see them as fresh and exciting and more inclined to overstate the irritations that surround us. And any workplace is full of irritations.”

In Browne’s estimation, given enough time and enough repetition of the tasks that make up [employees’ roles], the artifacts, strong values and general way of feeling while they are there begin to take a back seat to the day-to-day of their work. In that context, a new job offer bears the promise of reinvigoration, reinvention and a release from the things they’re bored with.

Since many more companies are awakening to the understanding that focusing on culture strengthens their employee-value proposition, the things you offer your employees may begin to lose their edginess, he says, adding that “you can get caught up in a vicious cycle if you react to that.” As he puts it,

“A far better goal for your culture efforts is to increase productivity, the voluntary sharing of talent, good will and skills, to iron out the rough spots that create barriers to team work and to develop a clear set of profiles for the people [who] you’ll have to hire to replace the ones [who] have left.

“Culture isn’t about retention. It’s about performance. Let that inform your decisions and you could save yourself from a world of pain.”

Not that we haven’t presented this premise in previous features and news analyses, but his way of articulating it caught a fresh eye so I gave it a fresh look.

I also contacted Browne to ask him specifically what HR practitioners and leaders should be doing to achieve that “far better goal.” His response:

“The one challenge shared by anyone who leads people in a discretionary environment [differentiated from a non-discretionary one, such as the military, where you are expected to follow orders fairly rigidly] is to convince people to volunteer their best efforts, loyalty and enthusiasm for the long term. You can’t lift them up by their feet and shake that stuff into their brains, so they have to choose to give it to you.

“Every culture conversation seems to be about how we make that happen, but I think we’re overlooking a couple of obvious things which keep hindering progress pretty much across the board:

  1. We don’t build jobs that support best efforts, loyalty and enthusiasm in the long term. You can come out of a design college and get a job at your dream digital-design company, be given the latest Mac computer and software to work on, in a great office, with exciting people and still feel like your job is boring within six months, because the projects you are working on and the clients you’re working with are, in fact, boring. Unless we’re building perfect jobs, therefore, which in an imperfect world with imperfect clients is impossible, people will find that they’ve had enough one day and go and find something else to do.

  2.  People are more loyal to their friends than they will ever be to a boss or a company. Ironically, the best reference for this is the behavior of soldiers in combat. While it’s often supposed that soldiers commit acts of great bravery for the grand notion of country, or unit or even God, the evidence suggests that, instead, they do it for the person next to them. When the order to retreat is given, they will blatantly ignore that order in order to rescue one of their colleagues. At the moments that matter, their loyalty is clear, and it’s not to ‘management’ or any sort of system. It’s to each other.”

I asked him to send me a specific, itemized list of the things HR should be doing or thinking about in light of his research. Here is that list:

  • You increase productivity when employees feel that they will let their colleagues down by slacking and care enough not to want to do that either because they’re emotionally invested or feel emotionally handcuffed. Either way, it works. This doesn’t happen overnight of course, but, by increasing the autonomy of individual teams — you can be as granular about this as you like, and I would encourage you to not be too broad — [so they can] make decisions on their own behalf [and] you make them more accountable for their results and actions, which then makes each individual member accountable to the others. You can’t be the one person who never pulls [his or her] weight in such an environment and expect to get anywhere. And to counter an obvious objection, if you find you have an entire team of slackers who merely cover each others’ backs instead of a productive team that cheers one another along, you change the challenge that they must meet and leave them to sort out the how. Raised expectations can have a very big impact.

  • They share talent, good will and skills voluntarily, because they’re sharing them with people they care about and whose success they link to their own. It doesn’t have to be altruistic; it just makes good sense as long as it is reciprocated and constant.

  • You iron out the barriers to teamwork by allowing them to decide how to work together. This goes to point one. Managers should care about the results and have a view about the way in which those results are achieved, but you’re unlikely to get the best out of people when you force them to stick to a rigid process that prevents them from developing their own flow. This may seem like voodoo to many organizations, which depend on processes to iron out the risk of defect, but those things are not mutually exclusive. You can have processes that must be adhered to, being followed by two teams with wildly different personalities, and get identical quality.

  • You create a clear set of profiles to replace those people by giving employees some say, or perhaps even all the say, about the people who join their team. They’re the ones who have to work with that new person and, unless you long to deal with employee friction, the manager’s view should be given less importance.

His list, he says, is a worthy goal of culture because it achieves the things you need it to: people giving their best efforts while they are with you.

Standing Desks: Fashion Over Function?

Ever since the first “standing” desks began appearing in the workplace in the mid 2000s, ergonomic experts have been debating the advantages they ostensibly bring to users.

Now, in a blow that could force even the most strident standing-desk supporter to sit down and re-evaluate his or her stand (puns clearly intended) on the issue, new meta-research finds there’s not a whole lot of science to back up the claims that using such desks are any better for you than traditional sit-down desks.

This recent analysis of 20 of the “best” studies done so far finds scant evidence that workplace interventions such as the sit-stand desk, the pedaling desk or even the treadmill desk will help you burn more calories or prevent or reverse the harm of sitting for hours on end.

“What we actually found is that most of it is, very much, just fashionable and not proven good for your health,” says Dr. Jos Verbeek, a health researcher at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

“At present,” the study’s authors conclude, “there is very low to low-quality evidence that sit-stand desks may decrease workplace sitting between thirty minutes to two hours per day without having adverse effects at the short or medium term.”

The authors instead call for “cluster-randomized trials” with a sufficient sample size and long-term follow-up to determine the effectiveness of different types of interventions to reduce objectively measured sitting time at work.

Tip of the hat to NPR for posting this.

Not Your Father’s Factory Floor Anymore

Today’s top manufacturing firms are hardly in the category of your dad’s or granddad’s factory of yore anymore. At least, that’s 473081406 -- factory workersaccording to the latest Great Place to Work Report on this sector,  Best Workplaces in Manufacturing & Production 2016, released a week ago today.

The report cites dramatic changes in industrial production and “a new employment deal defined by high levels of trust” that are prompting companies to “retool their relationships with employees as they compete for a shrinking pool of skilled workers,” says the report’s release.

The top manufacturing and production workplace for 2016 is Houston-based energy company Hilcorp. Electronics manufacturer Tactical Electronics, headquartered in Broken Arrow, Okla., ranks second on the list of 15 firms, followed by orthopedic surgical supply manufacturer Arthrex Inc., based in Naples, Fla.

As Michael Bush, CEO of Great Place to Work, puts it, the leading manufacturing and production companies “know the game has changed.”

“The best workplaces in the industry know they can’t just churn out their products with warm bodies,” he says. “They need to focus on attracting and retaining top talent by putting people first, in a high-trust culture. That’s how they are winning in the market.”

The list is based entirely on anonymous employee feedback from more than 34,900 randomly selected employees from companies in this sector. The winners do seem to defy outdated perceptions of working in factories and manufacturing plans.

For instance, in terms of job security, 92 percent of employees at companies on the list say their leaders would lay people off only as a last resort. That’s even better than the response from people at companies on the broader ranking of the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list, which includes organizations in healthcare and technology that are experiencing much faster growth.

And forget about the stereotype of fat-cat executives in conflict with poorly paid assembly line grunts. An average 82 percent of employees at the best manufacturing and production workplaces say they receive a fair share of profits. Hilcorp, for example, gave out $100,000 bonus checks to all employees last year after it met five-year goals.

In fact, here’s the official rundown from the report of some of the neat things gong on at top-winner Hilcorp.:

  • Buy-In Incentive Plan: This unique long-term incentive program provides all full-time employees with the opportunity to build personal wealth over time by allowing them to participate in Hilcorp projects and, as the projects start generating positive cash flow, the employee begins to share in the return.
  • Bonus Program: Every employee’s annual bonus is aligned with company goals — “When Hilcorp Wins, We all Win” — and bonus payout percentages are the same for all full-time employees. Hilcorp’s bonus stretch goal is 60 percent and, during the past five years, employees have received an average of 36 percent of their base salary.
  • The Hilcorp Giving Program: The company will establish a charitable trust of $2,500 to help employees support any U.S.-based 501(c)(3) organization. Hilcorp also helps increase an employee’s giving power by providing ongoing machining gifts up to $2,000 per year. Employees have donated more than $7 million to matching charities of their choice through this program.
  • Mega Plans – BHAG’s: Every five years, Hilcorp sets a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) that is truly a stretch goal with equally audacious rewards! For example, the latest BHAG, Dream 2015, was recently achieved by doubling the rate, reserves and value in five years. Everyone received (prorated based on hire date) $100,000!!!

As a result of their employee-focused approach, companies that made the list have an average turnover rate of just 7.2 percent, much lower than the national industry average of 13 percent reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Keeping that turnover low will offer a real advantage to these companies in the years ahead, the report says. As the president of the National Association of Manufacturers recently pointed out, the sector is expected to create 3.5 million new jobs in the next decade, but a lack of skilled workers is likely to leave 2 million of them unfilled. On top of the skills deficit, the industry also faces the challenges of an aging U.S. workforce and rising labor costs in Asia that make it easier to “insource” many of the jobs that left the United States in decades past. It continues:

“In this context, the Best Workplaces in Manufacturing and Production aren’t just exceptional for their people policies. They’re at the forefront of an entire industry that will need to create high-trust work environments in order to stay competitive in the years ahead.”

And in the words of Anil Saxena, Great Place to Work partner and workplace-culture consultant:

“There’s a lot of hiring in manufacturing, and there’s a lot of demand in manufacturing. [The perception of the sector as less-than-glamorous needn’t be a barrier to retaining valuable people.] If you treat your employees with respect and you involve them in your decision making, they’ll go the extra mile for you, regardless of their job title.”

How to Ruin the Holidays: Employer Edition

It’s December 16th, which puts us right in the thick of the holiday season.

For employers, this time of year provides a chance to show gratitude to employees for the outstanding work they’ve done over the past 12 months.

Of course, the holidays and the attendant celebrations also offer plenty of opportunities for regrettable behavior. And we’re not just talking about the already obnoxious colleague whose ability to annoy and offend only increases with his cocktail intake.

Employers can do a pretty good job of dashing the holiday spirit too. Consider a recent survey of more than 1,200 Appreciation at Work e-newsletter subscribers, who were asked to share their worst work-related holiday experiences.

And share they did.

A more comprehensive list is available here, but we’ve summarized just a few of these holiday horror stories below …

We all know by now that performance reviews aren’t particularly fun for many workers. One company actually found a way to make them less enjoyable, unexpectedly turning a holiday staff lunch into a staff performance review for everyone present, with “comments made openly that should have been kept for a private conversation,” recalls a disgusted survey respondent.

A private conversation may have spared one overlooked employee from a few extremely uncomfortable evenings. A recovering alcoholic recounts a director who “thanks” workers each year by loading them onto a party bus for a mandatory night on the town. Despite the boss’s knowledge of this worker’s alcoholism, “I still need to drive around for five-plus hours and watch everyone get drunk,” says the employee. “This is supposed to make me feel appreciated. It is horrible!”

Another enterprise, meanwhile, should have maybe considered taking its holiday party on the road. With the firm’s on-site shindig in full swing, the electric company arrived to shut off the electricity for non-payment.

Speaking of bad timing, this organization picked an inopportune moment to let a handful of employees in on a little secret. “One year, we had a project ending the first week of January, which resulted in the layoff of 25 workers,” according to one worker. “We were required to keep the layoff confidential, and it made it very difficult to get into a celebratory mood with a looming layoff.”

And, finally, let’s hope the miserly leaders at this company have a Scrooge-like change of heart when it doles out end-of-year rewards in the future. “I was instructed to hand out to co-workers gift certificates redeemable only at our own retail stores,” notes an incredulous employee. “The amounts were based on number of years worked for the company: $5 for one to five years, $10 for six to 10 years and $20 for 11-plus years. All employees expressed disgust that the low dollar amounts were tantamount to a slap in the face.”

Some of these tales may strike you as obvious examples of insensitivity that employers could have easily avoided. Some may seem like well-intentioned, if not well-thought out, attempts at expressing appreciation that left some employees feeling uneasy, alienated or flat-out angry. But all of these anecdotes should serve as examples of what not to do in your effort to recognize your people as 2015 winds down.

Billionaire Busts Out Big Bonuses (Again)

When your company — the largest privately held oil and gas producer in the country — also makes frequent appearances on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list, chances are good that you’re doing something right when it comes to keeping your workers happy.

So maybe it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when, late last week, news broke that  billionaire Jeffery Hildebrand, owner of Hilcorp Energy, just blew the curve on holiday bonuses this year with a staggering, six-figure sum for each employee.

According to this post from Forbes’ site, Hildebrand’s year-end generosity has already been well-documented:

Five years ago, when Hilcorp achieved its goal of doubling its oil and gas production, Hildebrand gave every employee the choice of $35,000 cash or $50,000 towards a new car. This year, despite the downturn, Hilcorp doubled its output again, to more than 150,000 barrels per day. So Hildebrand doubled the bonus — to $100,000.

With about 1,400 employees, Forbes notes, “Hildebrand’s largesse will total more than $100 million (amounts are said to be prorated depending on how much of the past five years a worker was with the company).”

But no matter what the ultimate amount on the check actually is, Hildebrand’s bonuses have a tremendous effect on how employees view their work, as evidenced by this quote from Amanda Thompson, a Hilcorp receptionist (provided to Fox 4 News in Houston):

“It’s just a true gift, and I think myself, along with everyone, is not going to give less than 100 percent each day,” she said.

In this age of constant self-promotion and 24/7 branding, it’s especially refreshing to read that “Hildebrand has declined all of [Forbes’] interview requests over the years; a spokesperson did not return calls for comment about the bonuses.”

Indeed, holiday season or not, money always talks louder than words.

Learning How to Listen at Sony

Sony Pictures and Modern Survey teamed up Monday in an HR Tech Conference session designed to “tell the story” of real ThinkstockPhotos-104011583engagement and better ways to listen to employees, as Modern Survey’s president and co-founder, Don MacPherson, described it.

Sony’s global talent analytics and insights manager, Antonio Aranda, also mapped out “the story” for the audience. Sony, he said, was like many companies before deciding to turn its engagement-surveying approach completely around by partnering with MacPherson’s company.

Although the Culver City, Calif.-based movie and entertainment conglomerate  was doing things slightly differently, just based on its creative approach to doing business in the picture industry, it was still operating in old-school mode, Aranda said, similar to organizations that still today survey employees maybe once every two years by asking way too many questions and then securing and sending out data that’s bloated, fuzzy, very low in its level of insights, and so unfocused and confusing that “employees don’t even know why they’re taking it; in fact, end up feeling like the survey is a mere exercise just to prove the company surveys its employees.”

As Aranda told it in the session, Sony Pictures: From Analytics to Insights, “we knew is was absolutely imperative that we work in harmony more by listening to our employees, but with 6,500 employees across 30 locations in multiple countries, we knew launching a widespread, more ongoing listening survey would come with many challenges.”

Modern Survey was up for them, though — with its “continuous listening strategy” that includes surveys throughout the life cycle of employees, from entrance to onboarding, all the way to exit surveys.

The approach, said MacPherson, promotes trusting relationships, not just between managers and employees, but between employees and their organizations.

“Anybody telling you engagement is all about the manager is forgetting what surveys are telling us about how important employee trust in the organization is,” he said.

Together, the two partners pruned Sony’s more monolithic list of questions — which could really only be blasted out once a year at most — down to something much simpler and leaner, with about five major and much more focused areas of concern.

“We wanted shorter time, greater focus,” said Aranda.

Customizing it to Sony’s needs, the survey went after net promoter scores — as in, “Would you recommend this company to a friend? — instead of engagement scores. The two also agreed feedback from the surveys would be immediate, and communication with employees about solutions and strategies for fixing any problems or concerns that were raised would be more in-depth and robust.

Top leaders and stakeholders also needed to be on the receiving end of better communication, said Aranda, “so they knew the story of our listening survey.”

To date, engagement and retention scores have increased and Sony employees are getting the message that “they’re being listened to,” he said.

 

Amazon Really, Really Wants Employee Input

You may have seen that Amazon.com 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.”