Employee Engagement Programs

Why Are Companies Scared Of Anonymous Surveys?

Too many companies simply don’t get it; Anonymous employee survey tools work. I often wonder why that is, and if my writing is making any difference or helping anybody.


I mean well, when I try and share these lessons or my thoughts on how companies should be run, but is it really realistic? Do people in senior management read my posts? If they do, do they think I’m wrong? Or are the people reading my posts just employees who are stuck in their job?

I feel like a vast majority of my readers are people that dream of improving their workplace, but think it’s too complex, or literally don’t have the resources to make change in their company.If you’re some middle manager in a 10,000 person organization, will any of this advice help you?

I like to think it will but of course, my opinion is biased.

I recently spoke with a friend of mine, who is a public speaker and a very well-known member of the Microsoft community. Last week he was speaking at a conference, and during the networking portion of the event, he spoke to a few people about their culture and asked them about their experience with staff engagement.

The response that they gave him really got me thinking.

What they said, was that hearing about companies like Zappos and Google and how amazing their culture is is fun, but it means nothing. It’s like a fantasy to think that anything will really change at their companies.

Honestly, I don’t agree with them, but I understand where they’re coming from. It’s a really complex situation, but I think it’s not as difficult or out of reach as many people make it out to be.

If you believe that your culture needs improvement, you need to tell someone. Even if it’s not the CEO, tell your manager, and ask them to tell their manager, and so on. Keep pushing for change. I know it sounds crazy, and it might seem like you can’t do anything about your company’s culture, but trust me you can.

What organizations need to do is create a culture of honesty and open discussion. Encourage employees to give their feedback through employee surveys and use that information to create a greater workplace.

Here’s an exercise I’d like everyone reading this to try. Remember that your relationship with your boss or manager is very similar to a relationship with your wife/husband. I’d like everyone reading this to take this relationship quiz, and just pretend that it’s being geared towards your boss instead of your significant other.

Some of the questions might not make any sense, especially in this context, but it’s a good exercise to understand the dynamic of your work relationship.

I’ll be open and honest. At my last job, a co-worker of mine suggested this idea to me, and at first I laughed. But then I took the test. I think the one I took said something like “if you answer Yes to at least 3 of these questions, you might be in an abusive relationship”. I answered yes to 11 of the questions…

It was then that I realized I had to leave, and I had to treat it like I was in an abusive romantic relationship. If it was a girl that I was saying yes 11 times about, we would have broken up already, so why hadn’t I quit my job?

Of course the answer is money, and it’s unfortunate that that’s the reason most of us stay at our jobs.

Creating a “Zombie” Culture

It can’t be money alone that keeps you at your job. It’s been proven over and over again that that’s not what truly motivates people.

What truly motivates them is autonomy, mastery, and purpose. I’ve spoken a lot about this in the past, but I’ll dive into more detail about each, because I don’t think I explained it properly last time.

When you have employees that aren’t happy at their job, they become disengaged. I don’t think enough people understand what the word “disengaged” means.

They stop caring about their work, they stop caring about themselves, their work suffers, and they infect the other staff. It’s also a giant waste of money from the employer’s side. There are so many people out there looking for a job, that if someone’s not contributing, you should get rid of them. Forewarning though, when you hire the next person, chances are they’ll end up just as disengaged if you’re not nice to them.

If you care about your company, how could you not care about the people working there?

Hire Slow, Fire Fast

Hiring is obviously the most important part of team building, company culture, and engagement. If you hire the right person, it will really work out well for your company, your team, and the company’s bottom line.

Using the same relationship analogy as earlier, treat hiring like you would finding a girlfriend/boyfriend.

Take it really slow, and make sure they absolutely fit in with the culture. Think of your coworkers like your family, and your boss like your parents. If you’re bringing this new employee on (as your new lover), would you be willing to introduce him/her to your “parents”?

It will make you much more selective about who you hire if you use this trick.

The opposite goes for firing. If your boyfriend/girlfriend cheats on you, you break up with them instantly. Similarly, if the new employee you hired isn’t working out, fire them, right away.

The Carrot Or The Stick

First of all, let me just say how much I hate this expression. It’s incredibly demeaning, stupid, and it’s just wrong.

Neither one works. For those unfamiliar, this is the old school management type of approach for motivating employees.

They say that some people use “the carrot” which is the reward (like a bonus), and the other is “the stick”, which is literally a beating stick to punish employees.

That’s why this expression pisses me off so much. The image of a boss beating an employee with a stick is the first thing that comes to my mind.

The stick definitely won’t work, even though some really stupid, old school managers like the idea of leading by fear.

The carrot generally doesn’t work either, because it’s not what truly motivates people. Bonuses are very short term, and hopefully you want to be in business for a few years, so you should really be thinking long term.

The other issue is that the world of work has changed. Repetitive, simple tasks have mostly been automated, and now the way people work is totally different.

In Dan Pink’s TED talk, he mentions that the carrot or stick approach only works if it’s a simple, repetitive, mindless task. But again, that’s not how people work today. Our workflows are much less linear. That’s essentially why the carrot or stick approach doesn’t work.

Let me dive a bit deeper into autonomy, mastery, and purpose, like I said I would.

  • Autonomy: Even if it’s not real, give employees the perception that they have control over how they spend their time, what tasks they work on, etc..Employees will be their most productive when they can feel like they have some sense of ownership.
  • Mastery: Is about becoming a master in whatever field you work in. If you’re an HR manager, become a master at everything HR. Every tool, every conference, every webinar, every Linkedin group, learn it. Employers need to understand the value of letting employees take time to learn these things.
  • Purpose: This is the most important one out of all of them. And it’s very simple too. Just ask “Why?”. Why am I working here? Why does this company exists? Why is what we’re doing important. Help employees understand this better, and always try to communicate the bigger vision with them

Like I mentioned, purpose is the most important one. I recently read a great article in FastCompany that talked about how asking why 5 times can get you to the root of a problem. The concept of asking why to dig deep is the secret behind purpose. Someone in the company must know why you’re all there.

If you’re working at a pharmaceutical company, are you there because you love pills or because you think you are making a difference in the world by saving lives?

Work Hard, Play Hard

I’ve recently had the opportunity to speak with the leaders of company culture, like people at Zappos and Rackspace.

I’ve spoken with many others as well, and one recurring theme I hear from all of these guys is about working hard and playing hard. These companies set up the type of environment that fuels a play hard attitude.

I understand most managers think that this stuff is nonsense, and unless you’re as successful as a Google or a Rackspace, you can’t do any of this. That’s simply not true.

Let me let you in on a secret: This turns into a reciprocity machine that ends up benefitting the employer.

Like any relationship, you can’t take without giving a little in return. When the company gives to the employees (in the form of benefits, autonomy, etc..), the employees give back (in the form of higher productivity).

This leads to the company giving even more back (like more benefits, more social outings, etc..), which ends up making the employees give even more back (in the form of even higher levels of productivity).

No Sense Of Urgency

The one beef that I think most managers have with all of this, is that they don’t think that employees will actually get any work done if they’re busy playing foosball or out for beers with the team. And in a way I agree with them.

One thing I’ve noticed, working for both successful companies and struggling startups, is that at the successful companies there’s no sense of urgency. Everyone seems so relaxed, and I often see people playing foosball, and I wonder how any work actually ever gets done.

Is the lack of urgency what led to their success? Or are they able to relax only now because they’re successful? I honestly don’t know, but I do know that urgency usually leads to shoddy work. People are nervous, and feel stressed to complete work, so they usually do a pretty crappy job.

Is the answer to do more busy work to give managers that false sense of urgency? I don’t think so…I think everyone just needs to be more realistic with their expectations, both from the employer’s side and the employee’s side.

This is why an anonymous employee survey tool (shameless plug alert!) like Officevibe is so important. If you can encourage team building activities at work, everyone will be working better, faster, stronger.

I just wish that more companies would change. I still can’t figure out why the employee engagement stats are so bad.

Like any revolution, it’s up to the people at the bottom to rise up, and convince everyone in the company that something’s wrong. Internal social networks like Yammer or Jive are a great way to get that going. Post a very polite message in there asking what’s allowed, and what’s not allowed. Something very subtle, but something to get the conversation started.

What do you think of anonymous engagement surveys for your company?

Is your company afraid of change?What do you think? Are too many companies afraid of making changes? Let me know your thoughts on twitter @JacobShriar or @Officevibe.

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