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Employee Satisfaction Surveys – what are they really for?

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Last month I invited you to join me in a Find 5 Errors exercise.

Here comes a summary of the comments:

  • What is the VP of HR’s business of sending this message to each employee?
  • Would have been OK if addressed to the leaders
  • Whose goal is this? The VP of HR’s?
  • Is the aim of an ee satisfaction survey a high score or an honest score?
  • Shouldn’t this VP rather spend his efforts on increasing the satisfaction and then wait for the result.

In other words…

The first thing that strikes us is the fact that the plea goes to the employees.

This gives cause to reflect on the goal of measuring employee satisfaction in the first place.

Is it a measure taken to identify areas of improvement that would not otherwise become apparent? Or are they made to show off?

The answer should obviously be the first option, however with his plea the VP of HR makes it look like the aim is to show a good score.

Now, it is understandable that HR would like to see a good result, because it would reflect positively on the quality of the HR work done in the organization.

However, even this understanding does not justify an appeal to the employees.

Instead, the appeal should have been addressed to the company’s managers. After all HR and the people who lead and manage the employees are the two parties whose joint efforts can influence the working climate and hence the employee satisfaction.

Except in this case, the timing is wrong.

If the appeal were to be a call to the managers, then it should come AFTER the result was known and with some advice on how to improved next year’s result.

In conclusion … dear VP of HR… you should have the results of your survey by this time.

Now start working with your managers. See to it that they understand how a working climate and employee satisfaction is built day-by-day through clarity and consistency in direct leadership. Maybe throw in a survey of direct leadership performance. I promise this will improve next year’s results and you will regain the respect and trust of the employees!



Written by Karin Zastrow

November 6, 2015 at 12:06

Posted in Misc

Find 5 errors…. about leadership and employee satisfaction!

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“Our annual employee satisfaction survey is approaching – let’s increase our score to xx percent this year. Together we can make it!”

This cheerful message recently went out from the global VP of HR to every employee in an international corporation.

Apart from the fact that it is pathetic that HR or any other representative of corporate management is begging for higher employee satisfaction, this short statement contains at least 5 errors. Can you identify them?

Let me hear your input – and I will share all of your input along my own thoughts.

Written by Karin Zastrow

September 12, 2015 at 18:46

Posted in Misc

Leadership Deliverables and How to Cook an Omelet

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Yesterday I gave a webinar organized by Quidam Global in Mexico.

The topic was the correlation between the practice of Direct Leadership™ and Employee Performance. The webinar was my first occasion to speak about how the deliverables defined in my model of day-to-day leadership will directly translate into what we desire to achieve among our employees.

Afterwards I thought about how to best describe the difference between deliverables and the more commonly addressed topics of culture, competencies or personalities.

I believe the answer is to take our eyes away from the infinite variety of competencies, cultural differences, personalities that makes every workplace and every team a unique place. Instead, we need to get up into the helicopter, rise above the trees of the forest and look at the bigger picture.

Only when we do so can we see the deliverables as the manifestation of all those other ingredients.

In a way you could compare it to cooking an omelet.

To make let’s say a mushroom omelet, you need eggs, milk, butter, salt, pepper and mushrooms. However, neither looking at the separate ingredients, nor tasting each of them will give you the same experience as tasting the end result.

Eggs, milk, butter, salt, pepper and mushrooms are comparable to cultures, competencies, and personalities. The finished omelet is the deliverable.

Let me be clear, I do not suggest ignoring culture, competencies and personalities.

However, I do urge you to understand that these are only means to produce the deliverables. Exactly like eggs, milk, butter and mushrooms are essential to produce a mushroom omelet, but not equal to an omelet.

The Direct Leadership™ Model describes and allows you to measure those very deliverables when it comes to day-to-day leadership.

Leading with pleasure and enthusiasm!

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In this first blogpost in 2015 I wish to send you all my greetings for 2015 that is well underway and for the Chinese Year of the Ram that is coming up. And I want to do so with sharing an experience I had yesterday.

I was meeting a leader in the retail business. His name is Kent and his staff amounts to 42 people, one third of which are full time employees whereas the remainder work weekends and in peak periods.

Our meeting took place at a time where he was very busy doing his annual 1:1 meetings with all of his direct reports. And let me admit that I forgot to ask whether this was all of the 42 people or only some proportion of them. My impression though was that if it wasn’t with everybody then clearly it was with the entire sales staff plus a few team leaders, possibly 30 people.

Now, in my past when I worked in corporations, I frequently heard managers vividly complaining and whining about such 1:1 meetings if they had more than a handful of direct reports.

They had no time for all of those 1:1 meetings, these meetings were taking all of their time, weren’t they really a waste of time? etc.

Not Kent.

I met after two such 1:1 staff meetings and heard him talking with enthusiasm about how these meetings really allowed him to bring together everything he ever learned about leading people. I heard him explain in detail how he was engaged in matching each persons career desires with their job in his store.

Just before our meeting ended, my time with Kent also gave me an opportunity to see his leadership in action. Having taken a short break from our conversation an employee came up to him asking for some advice about a delivery for a customer. The customer was waiting but sufficiently out of reach not to hear the conversation.

So what did Kent do? I mean he was in a meeting with me, right? I believe most people would have quickly told the employee where to search and returned to their meeting. Instead he personified his company and personal values that include customer focus, teamwork, making things easy for the customer and – importantly “do the right thing, even when nobody sees”. He asked me to wait for just a few minutes, helped his employee help the customer with the same enthusiasm as he had just been talking to me… and only then did he turn back to me.

I don’t know if he was aware, but that incident showed me that he was for real. Right there in a matter of 5 minutes he succeeded in not just making a customer overjoyed with the customer service she received, he also caught an opportunity to demonstrate to the employees involved how the company values translates down to everybody as well as his own dedication to being the leader. I mean, our meeting was after all nice-to-do. Being the leader of his staff is a need-to-do whenever the opportunity arises.

Had Kent offered me a job in his store at the end of our meeting, I would have seriously considered taking it!

Written by Karin Zastrow

February 5, 2015 at 10:33

Posted in Misc

Referee style and Millennials!

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Sometimes leaders hesitate to apply the Referee style.

This Forbes article by Karl Moore and Sema Burney that confirms the importance of regular, undramatic, yet precise feedback, i.e. the very essence of the Direct Leadership model’s REFEREE style. In fact the article tells us that with Millennials this style is even more crucial than before, because they have grown up on instant feedback.

Giving S.M.A.R.T. Feedback to Millennials – Forbes

The articles explains the reasons for remembering to give feedback and suggest a well-tested approach to doing so.



Karl Moore is a professor at the Desautels Faculty, McGill University & an Associate Fellow at Green Templeton College, Oxford University. Karl has worked closely with Henry Mintzberg for 10 years.

Sema Burney is a Human Resources Consultant, specializing in the areas of leadership, diversity and inclusion. She is a Chartered Professional Accountant and holds an MBA from McGill University.

Written by Karin Zastrow

December 9, 2014 at 03:02

Posted in Misc

Finding 5 errors – here is the result!

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First, a big thank you to all who commented on the Finding 5 Errors challenge last week!”

From your comments I have extracted 3 themes. Finally, I have added some musings from the Direct Leadership™ perspective.

Theme #1: Acting without considering the context

Every leader must understand his/her particular context. In our case, a very important contextual lesson to remember is that as the figurehead of the organization’s values and culture, a CEO never talks to just one employee. He may have just one employee in the room, but his words will always send ripples out into his organization. Clearly, when acting impulsively like he did, the CEO was ignoring this important understanding of his own position in the organizational context.

Theme #2: Emotional Intelligence/Relationship Skills/Motivation

Not just CEO’s but all leaders must understand how their words and actions are likely to impact others. It seems like our guy either a) does not know how his words might sound to the employee, b) does not care or c) was unable to control his own reaction about the employee’s findings.

Either way, the effect is the same: in return for honesty the employee gets brushed-off. The message is “I am going to ignore your message”, “I value other people’s competence higher than yours”, “I don’t want to spend any more time in your company”.

The late Dr. Will Schutz – the creator of FIRO-B and The Human Element® – taught the world that every human being seeks to feel significant, competent and liked in the company of others and that these feelings are directly linked to the bottom line.

This boss, essentially tells the opposite. As a consequence the employee walks away highly demotivated. Demotivated from speaking truthfully to senior management and demotivated about delivering a thoughtful analysis of his observations.

Theme #3: Trust

Several comments revolved around the issue of trust.

To be a leader you need to earn the trust of your employees. Leaders are seen as trustworthy when they walk their talk (act in accordance with their declared intention). The first violation happens when the CEO invites a dialogue and then rejects it.

Secondly, assuming that this company subscribes to such corporate values as honest, open dialogue and “employees are our greatest asset”, several of the comments pointed to the fact that in preventing an employee from speaking honestly, the CEO says the opposite of sound company values. And the result is inevitable: the employee loses trust in the CEO and will definitely think twice about responding truthfully next time he is asked, that is if he does not simply start looking for another job.

3 better approaches:

1) Next time you find yourself hearing something different from what you were hoping to hear. LISTEN EVEN MORE.Do so, even if you have an emotional reaction to what you hear. Own up to the feeling that your body and voice will reveal anyway. Say: “this is very disturbing, let me make sure I fully understand it. Please TELL ME MORE*) .This sets a good example for the employee in question and for everyone who hears about it. The message is “I value honesty” and “I appreciate every employee’s contribution”.

2) If you cannot bring yourself to say ‘tell me more’ then take the second best road and BUY YOURSELF SOME TIME. E.g. by saying ”Wow, this is not at all what I was expecting to hear. I’ll have to sleep on my response. Can I come back to you in a day or two”.

3) Finally TELL the employee what you have done with his input. Even if your choice is just to “keep his words in mind”. Why? Because this will send the signal to the employee that he and his contributions are important, worth listening to and have been worth spending time on. Not only will he feel better. You will have acted in synch with the context and your status as a figurehead, you will have been emotionally intelligent and motivating and you will have established yourself as trustworthy.

*) Note! TELL ME MORE can also be phrased as “please write a report/a summary..” or “please also tell, NN..”

Now then, let us finally look at the 5 errors in a Direct Leadership™ perspective

How does this situation look from the perspective of “roles”, “styles” and “catching the leadership opportunities”?

Initially the CEO does everything right! 

He sees an employee and seizes the opportunity to learn the latest news from him. Good job!

If only, he would have continued that way… 

Instead he throws away the leadership opportunity thus preventing himself from taking many constructive leadership actions, such as:

  • thanking the employee for his knowledge sharing and explaining that his input was valuable for the execution of the strategy of this particular product (Knowledge Manager and Strategy Deployer/Referee style).
  • Asking the employee to put his work in writing or otherwise share it with some specific other staff (Knowledge Manager/Initiator Style)
  • Telling the employee that he would mention to his superior how he appreciated the quality and honesty of the employee’s words (Career Developer/Initiator).

Meanwhile, this is only what he could have done vs this one employee. With his other staff, who created the strategy and calculated the projections, the employee’s input could also have been a leadership opportunity to take action vs his other staff. 
For instance, he could have asked and/or coached his staff to:

  • Reconsider/review the product strategy
  • Produce an assessment of the organization relating to this product
  • He could have criticized the fact that he was only made aware of the problems from a low-ranking employee and not the people in charge
  • He could have asked for a report taking this information into account and an analysis if this might lead to any changes in planning or execution of the project plan involved.

Written by Karin Zastrow

November 5, 2014 at 11:35

Posted in Misc

Finding 5 errors – even a few more? 

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The following is a true story. It describes an incident that took place recently in a MNC that consider themselves successful because they are quality driven and innovative.

An employee had just come back from visiting a client in X-country together with the local colleagues. He had been sent there urgently to troubleshoot a problem that had proven difficult to solve. This was not his first stab at doing so. In fact it was the 3rd or 4th time he had been called to help out in this particular matter.

The incident took place on his second day back in headquarters, when he was called into the CEO’s office. ”I see you are back from X-country” said the CEO ”Why don’t you come along to my office and tell me how you see the situation?”

As per the CEO’s request, the employee sat down and – encouraged by the CEO – began to give his honest opinion, i.e. that he believed the product in question had some serious design flaws and that the market projections for this product were completely off the mark.

10 minutes into listening the CEO interrupted him with these words:

Stop! Don’t say anymore. What you are telling me is not what I want to hear. I have an R&D team as well as a business development team down the hall. They have made these projections and I trust them. I don’t need to hear more from you. Let us just end this meeting.

Now, if this was the only time I had heard something like this, I would not care too much. But unfortunately this case does not stand alone.

This is why I ask for your help.

Please send me your reaction and thoughts, especially including what you consider the leadership error(s) that this CEO commit.

In return, I promise that one week from now I will compile the replies and publish the result.


Written by Karin Zastrow

October 21, 2014 at 05:38

Posted in Misc

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