Monday, June 17, 2019

Leadership Pitfalls: Hearing versus Listening for Surveys

For the purpose of this article, hearing is the words you hear and listening is the meaning of the words.

I do not know how many company leaders fall into this but leaders seem to misinterpret surveys all the time. Maybe I am unlucky in the companies that wishes to hire me or perhaps I just do not understand what it takes to be a leader.

I have filled in many surveys in hopes that it will truly change how leadership leads. Every year, almost the same results are returned: 1. Communication, 2. Training/Development. So each year, I become less and less hopeful that leadership would ever change. Even after several reorgs.


Even with other companies, there always seem to be a gap in communication. And for whatever reason, leadership thinks this means to have more meetings. Why do we even pay leadership more money if they do not understand what the workers are saying to them?

Just because the workers say "We do not know what is going on?", does not mean to have more meetings. Not only more meetings, especially not meetings about how the entire corporation is doing. Why do I care we have double digit growth (ie more than 10% growth)? Then you follow that up with record profits. Yet, you do not hear the biggest question that no one will bluntly ask "why are our salaries still the same with no additional people?" So basically what we hear is "can you feel us kicking you while you are down?"

Why should we care that you are telling us what the numbers are from the survey? We told you what we think, we have some idea what we said. Tell us what you are doing about it. Tell us you are going to set up more meetings. Then we can at the very least respond with... "that is not what we really meant to say" or the main question we do not dare ask "why are you so stupid?" so that we can correct your thoughts.

High percentages with manager satisfaction yet you know there is a lot of grumbling going on. Our surveys always scored more than 85% manager satisfaction and 90% trust in leadership. This is not an indication that you are doing a good job. This is an indication that we no longer trust you. Increased employee turn-over, unable to retain top talent, superficial questions at the end of meetings, etc. are all clues that your surveys are telling a different story.

I understand there are certain level of optics that leadership should keep. But if you are going to play dumb, you are only going to keep dumb people or smart people doing status quo. For example, company employs thousands of people and many with decades of experience. Yet during innovation events, only the new graduates attend (and most strongly "encouraged" to go).

We actually had someone dare ask the question about fair compensation. If we are putting up record numbers, why are we only treated to fair market value while executives get to enjoy all the added bonuses. To add a little more background, the top employees barely reached 1% raise each year (at least that is what leadership told us). On top of that, company "perks" (which we already low standards even compared to small companies) have been slowly picked away.

On top of that, the response was (paraphrasing) "we understand because aren't we all here for the money?" WOW! Not even a hint of sarcasm in there. Clearly only heard, "we are greedy and want more money." Listen carefully and you might hear, "we just want our fair share (going forward for what we clearly did for you for the past several years)". Of course, this come the day after the CEO just sold some shares for millions of dollars.

Yes, surveys do say something but are you really listening or just hearing what you want to hear? All I know is that things have not changed one iota since I started except now we have more company meetings that just seem to waste more of my time. The saddest part for me is that I have actually spent a lot of time writing a response to most of these meetings but have never sent it out to anyone. Why? Because I do not trust anyone. What have you done to earn my trust in you?


Every year, they say they try to add more budget to train people. Yet the only people who seem to get training, or have time for training, or go to interesting events, are the new graduates. Then we slowly watch as each one slowly move on to other companies.

What do you think that communicates to all your veterans? More promises, and more broken promises. There was one time a group got their training, then got replaced by interns because the interns couldn't fix the legacy stuff (or at least were not interested in it). On top of that, they were expected to make use of the little training they got.... a year later. No practice, not even a small project.

Why is HR in charge of training? HR should be in charge of making directors or managers to create time for training for their direct reports. HR barely knows enough to hire the person. You think they know what specialists how to improve on their existing skillsets? The manager/supervisor will barely know that.

I have yet to ever receive any sort of training. They say I need to be more pro-active about it. Yet when I ask questions, I seem to be dumped with more work. Even if I find something interesting, they will ask if there is a cheaper (ie freer) option. If I knew, wouldn't I just request that one?! After a while, I just do not care anymore. I just do my own training now and pay for it myself.

Company has been around for decades and they do not know where my position should grow into. Yet they say they are all about career growth. They should already know what I should move into... they clearly care when it comes to our salary.

The Truth

But in all actuality, the real truth is that corporate leadership really (really, really, really) does not care about their employees. Oh, they'll promise you the world. At the end of the day, they get to return home with their payday. They care so little and they have so much of a monopoly over your life that they do not even care to create a fake optic to make you feel better. Just bribe a few people with a 2% raise or a fancy title just to make it look some people are happy. Which they probably are because they are friends of the leader and are not doing much work.

The company has let go of people with vast experience, yet the company still employs a person who does absolutely nothing. Literally, nothing. Who knows, maybe she's the making of a future leader. It is the only real explanation.

But just in case there is actually a "good" manager/leader somewhere out there that just happened to read this... people are complex, most people are good people, and they won't say directly what is needed. One, they may not actually know how to phrase it. Two, they also want to save your ego by not saying you're dumb to your face. Three, spending a little bit of time with all (or most) of your directs will at least open the opportunity for someone like myself to trust you.

From personal experience, there was on CEO of a company of hundred. He remembered my name a year later (randomly in the hallway) and only after meeting me once. You cannot imagine how much more I did if something came from him after that. Now, a director (not my director) that sits about 15 feet away has no clue that I even exist. She won some national award... and no one here even cared.

You may not have to believe in all the things I say. But if enough people say the same thing, there ought to be some pattern worth investigating.... just saying...


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