Tag archive for "employee surveys"

by Richard, Leadership, Think About It...

What Do You Think of Your Boss?

No Comments 30 July 2013

boss love hate

In January of this year, we conducted a survey to determine people’s thoughts, attitudes, and feelings toward their bosses.

Those who subscribed to our free monthly “Fresh Milk” newsletter were invited to take the survey. That particular issue was received by about 3,700 subscribers, and 183 responded by participating in the survey, over a two-week period.

It wasn’t a scientifically conducted survey, but we think the results ARE useful, and instructive.

We’ve prepared a white paper outlining, in detail, the results of the survey, along with our commentary and some recommendations. You can download the white paper for free, by clicking here.

If you want only a high-level synopsis, along with the commentary and recommendations, read on.

The first section of the survey posed this question: On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your boss on each of the following attributes? 1= lousy, 10=terrific

  1. Providing relevant information when needed
  2. Integrity
  3. Listening
  4. Fairness
  5. Showing respect
  6. Expressing appreciation
  7. Fostering teamwork
  8. Maintaining high standards
  9. Inspiring us to do our best work
  10. Holding people accountable
  11. Recruiting great talent

The highest rating went to “Integrity”, followed by “Maintaining high standards” and “Showing respect”. Bringing up the rear were “Fostering teamwork”, “Recruiting great talent”, and (in dead last place) “Inspiring us to do our best work”.

Having observed this, let’s consider something about the concept of “integrity”. Having integrity is, in at least one regard, like being pregnant. Either you are or you aren’t. As mathematicians would say, having a little bit of integrity is an “undefined state”. The word “integrity” comes from the Latin word for “whole”, and you simply can’t be partially whole. Still, we asked the question, and included integrity on the same scale as the other attributes. On that scale, a 7 or above was considered a “passing” grade. But under the notion that you either have integrity or you lack it, you’d have to earn a “10” to get any “integrity credit” at all. While 66.5% of respondents gave their boss a passing grade, only 26.25% were willing to give their boss a 10. That’s disheartening, to say the least.

Percentage of respondents who gave each item a score of 7 or more


Next, we asked which of the 11 attributes their boss needed to improve the most. The top vote-getter, at nearly 20%, was “Holding people accountable”, followed by “Providing relevant information when needed” and “Listening.”

We asked other questions, and learned that, by and large, our respondents’ bosses were willing to get their hands dirty, two-thirds were comfortable telling their boss what they thought, and nearly as many felt that their boss cared about them as a person.

Only about 42% felt their bosses had a clue about what they (the employees) have to do to get their jobs done, only 36% have bosses who do a good job telling them how they’re doing, and only about a third have bosses who do things to help them in their jobs.

We couldn’t help but notice that more of our respondents like their boss (65.6%) than respect them (56.3%) or trust them (46.9%).

And when it comes to personality traits, our respondents’ bosses were more kind than heartless, and more cheerful than grouchy. Less than half (47.8%) are interested in their followers’ success, but 54.2% of the bosses are interested in their followers as people. 38.6% said their bosses demonstrated consistently good leadership; 64.1% rated their bosses as “competent”.

The last two questions in the survey were open-ended ones: What one thing would you change about your boss, if you could? And what positive quality about your boss do you appreciate most? The following “word clouds” depict the themes in the answers to these questions, with the most prominently appearing words commanding the most attention in the graphics.


What ONE thing would you change about your boss, if you could?















What ONE positive quality does your boss have that you appreciate most?











If we were to extrapolate the results of this survey to the workplace at large, then we could conclude the following:

* Overall, bosses treat their followers with a reasonable degree of respect, and conduct themselves with integrity, although their followers are hesitant to say they fully trust their bosses. Bosses tend to hold people to high standards, and are reasonably fair in their dealings with those on their teams.

* Employees notice and appreciate when their bosses notice and appreciate their work, especially when they express that appreciation. They also appreciate being left alone to do their work (autonomy), having their ideas considered seriously, and a boss with an open-door policy.

* Their followers would like some – but not all – bosses to spend a little more time with them. This should be meaningful time, though, and not time spent micromanaging them or their work. In fact, based on some of the survey results, we’d suggest that managers could spend more time learning how they can be of help to those on their teams, and then helping them do their jobs better.

* Overall, bosses know how to behave and conduct themselves around others, but some of the subject bosses sound like royal jerks. A few of the responses to our open-ended questions contained words that even we don’t want to publish here (or in the white paper), and the one or two anatomical references in those comments will be allowed to remain in the realm of your imagination.

* One of the most serious indictments of the subject bosses is that they fail to inspire people to do their best work. We’ve written and spoken extensively on the topic of Discretionary Effort – that extra increment of effort that people give to the job because they want to, not because they have to. It’s become clear to us that you can’t beat Discretionary Effort out of people. And you can’t buy it from people. You can only inspire it. If you, as a leader, aren’t getting enough Discretionary Effort from your followers, the first place to look for a solution may be at how well you inspire people to do their best work.

* Many bosses could do a much better job of holding people accountable, of listening, and of providing relevant information when needed.

* At Contented Cow Partners, we’ve long maintained that one of the most essential elements of any manager’s job is hiring the right people to serve on the team. In this respect, the bosses who were the subject of this survey fared particularly poorly. If that is indeed the case, these managers could make their jobs, and those of their current followers infinitely easier by constantly recruiting and then hiring top talent.



Richard Hadden is a leadership speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations improve their business results by virtue of a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He and Bill Catlette are the authors of the popular “Contented Cows” leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. Their newest book, Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Learn more about them and their work at ContentedCows.com.

by Bill, Management, Think About It...

The Beatings Will Stop When Everything is Rated a 10

1 Comment 29 July 2012

Take a trip, make a major purchase, dine out, open a bank account, or just go to work, and the odds are good that you will soon be asked to complete some form of satisfaction survey. It seems that we’re practically being surveyed to death these days. Okay, maybe not “to death”, but you know what I’m referring to. You’ve doubtless experienced a significant ramping up of user, customer, and employee surveys in recent years.

In the interest of full disclosure, our firm provides satisfaction survey services (customer and employee) for clients. But this isn’t about us, or what we might be able to do for you. Rather, it’s about what YOU can do for you.

I’ve been on a road trip promoting our new book, and four times during the last week have been overtly asked (begged might be a better term) by customer contact employees to complete a customer satisfaction survey, AND to be sure and record my response as a “10”, or 7, or whatever the maximum score is on the firm’s survey. These four episodes involved two major hotel chains and two prominent food service brands. There was nothing subtle about it. The clear implication in each case was that, we want you to complete a survey and give us a 10, and if you can’t give the 10, well, then… maybe you can rethink completing the survey. On top of that, I’ve received two emails from the credit card company we use to pay for this travel, the first one asking me to complete a survey, and the second bugging me to get the survey done.

If you’re going to seek and fully utilize satisfaction surveys, there are a host of critical success factors you should bake into your data gathering process. Here are just a few of them:

The beatings will stop when everything is rated a 10 – Whether it is of the employee or customer satisfaction variety, many survey users would suggest that attaining high scores is the main objective of doing the survey. Au contraire! We would submit that it is of far greater benefit to get valid feedback about what the employee, customer, or user sees as the best and worst aspects of doing business with your organization, AND to see scores go up over time. Indeed, low scores and some bone honest feedback about things that you need to improve are one of the best gifts someone can give you. But you’re probably not going to get that if all you’re pushing for is maxed out scores.

Be careful, very careful what you incent people to do – We’re not opposed at all to linking surveys to performance-based incentives, but as with any incentive, you’ve got to be very careful how you draw up the program. People, all of us, are going to do what we’re incentivized to do, regardless of whether it meshes with the spirit and intent of the program or not. If incentivized (positively or otherwise) simply on the basis of attaining high scores, people will find myriad ways to game the system in order to achieve that objective, witness my conversations with the four hotel and food service personnel.

Strive for high participation, but don’t, repeat do NOT badger people – Clearly, getting a significant percentage of respondents from the targeted survey population is a good thing in that it helps assure a valid sample. But, you want it to be an un-coerced sample. Doing otherwise annoys the would-be respondent, and it very likely “poisons the well.”

At the end of the day, it is important to realize that nothing short of our credibility and reputation are at stake when we invite people to tell us what they think about our business. The least we can do is to honor their time by asking a few (not a great long list of) relevant questions, inviting criticism as much as praise, taking their feedback to heart, and sharing the results with all stakeholders.


A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the Contented Cows leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

Part 2 of 2: Unhappy Workers: Why it matters, and how to fix it

by Bill, by Richard, Leadership, Motivation

Part 2 of 2: Unhappy Workers: Why it matters, and how to fix it

No Comments 19 February 2010

In a post on January 13, we wrote about the epidemic of worker dissatisfaction in the US, as reported in a Conference Board study. In that post, we offered some initial thoughts on why workers are so unhappy these days, why it matters, and what to do about it. The first two reasons we gave were:

1. Workers have a diminished sense of meaningfulness in their jobs.
2. One word: micromanagement.

Here are 4 more reasons (with some suggested solutions), and a concluding thought:

Undifferentiated rewards: As companies have shrunk their merit budgets and bonuses, AND as the stock market is down for an entire DECADE (thus reducing the value of option grants), we have experienced tremendous reward destruction and compression in which the distinction between “stars” and “slugs” (Bill’s terms) has become negligible. Thus, we’ve experienced a drop in satisfaction that touches all, including our best performing people.

What to do: When you see good performance, reward it. Then and there. Start with “Thank You.” Then, find a way, and a big enough way to get the person’s attention. Rather than adding to fixed payroll expense, consider gifting an award trip, extra time off, or some other gift that really means something to the individual. Worry less about being consistent than sending a message that excellence is meaningfully rewarded.

Pocket pain: Specifically, health care. Concurrent with less-than-exciting (or nonexistent) pay increases, U.S. workers are paying more for health care, owing to a non-system that has seen costs more than double over the last decade. Employers who offer health care benefits have no choice but share the increasing cost. While currently proposed legislation solves some of the problems, it does little for the biggest problem – controlling costs. Take that, plus the increasing number of workers who have no health care benefits at work, and you’ve got a workforce paying higher premiums, higher out of pocket costs, no realistic solutions on the horizon, AND the increased worry that accompanies having no safety net. Yikes.

What to do: Turn off the TV! Get the facts. Read, starting with Regina Herzlinger’s Who Killed Healthcare?. Discuss the matter with your own physician. Consider establishing, along with like-minded neighboring employers, a private or co-op clinic, as organizations like SAS and the Pebble Beach Company have done. Heavily incent workers, using both positive and negative consequences, to better manage their health. Advocate forcefully for better public policy.

Diminished employment options: The recession, paired with the continued unbundling (and offshoring) of work have drastically reduced the number and scope of available jobs. Moreover, any stigmas or pangs of guilt on the part of management associated with reducing “heads” in the workplace have disappeared. Witness simultaneous announcements by United Parcel Service last month that the company was, 1) increasing earnings guidance due to favorable business conditions, and 2) Doing a restructuring that would eliminate nearly 2,000 jobs. People who once were assured that, even if they didn’t like their current job, could quickly find another now aren’t as comforted by their options.

What to do: Tune in. Let your people know where they stand and how the business is doing – truthfully and regularly. If you’re through making cuts, say so. Monitor and nurture your employment brand as carefully as you do your cash. That may also mean managing people out of the organization (with consideration and decency) who have unplugged and are merely hanging on because they don’t see any options.

The dumbing down of the workplace:
The first shoe to drop whenever earnings take a hit, or the economy contracts, falls on the organization’s training budget. We are now in the 3rd year of greatly diminished funding, to include training for managers. To wit, people now find themselves in the unenviable position of working for (and with) less skilled managers. Not a happy thought.

What to do: Take this opportunity to get the jump on your competition. Begin selectively restarting your development activities, with a careful eye for the real priorities. If you can’t yet afford systemic efforts, fund development initiatives (i.e., executive coaching) for worthy staff. Incent workers (using time off or a skill acquisition bonus) to invest in their own development plans, rather than just “taking whatever comes from corporate”.

One last thought – and pardon what sounds like a negative tone here: Dissatisfaction isn’t confined to the workplace. The decade of the 00’s is one that most people in the U.S., if not elsewhere, were glad to put in the rear view mirror. We think it’s safe to say that many (if not most) of us feel less well off, less secure, and yes, less satisfied than at any time in our lives. To think that these feelings don’t make their way into the workplace is delusional.

That said, maybe it’s time to “reboot” this whole idea of leadership and motivation in the workplace. Not to throw it out, but to “reload the program”, under a new set of conditions, a new reality, for a new and better future. It is for that reason that together with our friend and colleague, Meredith Kimbell, we have been working for the better part of a year on a new book, Rebooting Leadership, due for publication in May of this year. Watch this space for more.

Meanwhile, buck up, and Godspeed!

by Bill, Management, Motivation

Unhappy Workers. Why it matters, and How to fix it (Part 1 of 2)

3 Comments 13 January 2010

Job satisfaction is on a steady decline in the U.S., according to a report released last week by the Conference Board, a non-profit global business research organization.

If these numbers don’t grab business leaders by the throat and compel them to take action, we don’t know what will. On top of a still-anemic economy and a near universal crisis of trust,  the very last thing employers need today is a bunch of disgruntled workers operating at well less than full power. But that’s exactly what most organizations are faced with.

Only 45% of workers in the CB survey say they’re satisfied in their jobs, down from 61% in 1987, the first year the study was conducted. Unlike the economy, this downward trend has been constant, not cyclical. Just like gravity, job satisfaction has gone one way in both good times and bad… down.

So, what’s worker satisfaction at your outfit? And what difference does it make?

Second question first. If you’ve been following us for any part of the last 12 years, you know our research shows that it makes a HUGE difference – to the bottom line. Contented Cows Give Better Milk. Period.

First question: What’s worker satisfaction like  where you work? How do you know? Have you done a survey lately to find out where your company stands with respect to employee satisfaction? If not, why not? If so, what did you do with what you learned from the survey? If you want some help with this, click here.

So, if workers are less satisfied at work now than they once were, what are the reasons? What’s the remedy?

In keeping with the last-in-first-out nature of this article, we’ll start with a remedy:

Manage Yourself First: People aren’t going to follow, let alone be energized and engaged by a leader who is confused, conflicted, or depressed. If you can manage yourself on your own, go to it. If not, find a coach or counselor to help.

Now to the reasons. We’ll offer two in this article, and what to do about them; then a few more next month.

Reason #1:

Author Daniel Pink probably hit on the kernel of rising dissatisfaction when he tweeted last week, “Meager money + Zero meaning = Record low job satisfaction.”  Increase the value of either of the two variables on the left side of Pink’s equation, and satisfaction is likely to rebound.

What to do about it

If you put any more money into the equation, do it in a way that serves to better differentiate (and reward) better performers. If more money’s not in the cards, or even if it is, leaders could substantially improve employee satisfaction and engagement, and thereby organizational results, by investing more meaning in people’s work. That takes two forms:

Make less meaningful work more meaningful.

  • Take all the senseless BS out of people’s jobs – unnecessary tasks, paperwork, and CYA-related nonsense.
  • When you ask someone to do something, use what they’ve done, or quit asking them to do it.
  • Ask people to develop their own best ways to accomplish results, hold them accountable, and reward them for hitting targets.
  • On the premise that we all need to see the needle move once in a while, give them some opportunities for quick wins.

Shine a light on the meaning that’s already there. This is the more likely problem, and it’s easier to fix.

  • Create a clear line of sight between their work and real paying customers. Bank tellers need to know how processing transactions makes money for the bank. Most don’t have a clue. Dishwashers and prep cooks – how does their work make diners want to come back and spend more money? And every assistant administrator in a state community college needs a firm grasp of how the decisions they make impact the quality of education in their state.
  • Here’s an assignment for today. Yes, today. Ask each team member to describe how their work is felt, ultimately, by the people who pay for what you do – customers, clients, patients, taxpayers, students, whatever you call them – the people without whom the organization would not exist. If they can’t do it, see the above bullet point.

Reason #2:

While some leaders run around telling people they’re “empowered” (gag), sadly, most of us are actually micromanaging people into less and less satisfaction.

One way to start doing something about that:

Build in flexibility. If at all possible, let go of your concern with when people show up to do their work, and what they’re doing every minute they’re on the premises. Trust us. No one ever said “I hate my job. It gives me too much control over my life.” This one will get you MAJOR satisfaction points, if you manage it well.

If work times must, by the nature of your business, coincide with customers’ and/or co-workers’ patterns, then ask your workforce to figure out a way to meet the needs of the business while providing people with maximum flexibility.

In fields where customer coverage and colleague coordination matters less, incent people to accomplish results, not punch a clock, real or imaginary. If you employ adults, treat them as such. Hold them accountable – really accountable – for excellent results, and let them figure out the best way to manage their schedules while meeting business needs. If you’ve hired the right people, they’ll LOVE their jobs.

Next month, we’ll look at a few more reasons people aren’t feeling the job love as much these days, and some remedies for each.

Til then, Godspeed.


A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at www.contentedcows.com, or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ContentedCows

by Bill, Leadership

Stimulate This!

No Comments 17 February 2009

Well, now that the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has been signed into law, the heavy lifting begins, amidst the hoopla and controversy over who has the most “shovel ready” projects worthy of public financing.

In that vein there was an excellent piece (Smart Roads, Smart Bridges. Smart Grids.) by Michael Totty in today’s WSJ. In well-written, compelling fashion, Mr. Totty advocates  using currently available technology and good engineering methods to leave us with “highways that alert motorists of a traffic jam before it forms; bridges that report when they’re at risk of collapse; or an electric grid that fixes itself when blackouts hit.”  In other words, as long as we’re at it, let’s use some smart data gathering and design methods to yield much better outcomes.

In similar fashion, we have long called attention to the fact that smart, well-run organizations make it a point to regularly (no, constantly) sample the ebb and flow of worker morale using well constructed surveys. They do it not out of some socialistic bent, but because they know that to a great degree, today’s morale drives tomorrow’s customer experience, and next month’s earnings. In other words, it pays to do it. This is not something where they turn the spigot on when times are good and shut it off when things get tough. Rather, they take pains to listen and respond to their workers whether the wind is in their face or at their backs.

A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at www.contentedcows.com


Considered thought leaders in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden speak to, train, and coach managers on leadership practices for better business outcomes.

OUR PREMISE: Having a focused, engaged, and capably led workforce is one of the best things any organization can do for its bottom line.


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