Bob's Gutsy Leadership Blog

Nike: Getting Their Head Out of the Sand!

Recently, Nike learned the hard way that you need to know what employees are experiencing.  Specifically, the press reported that this saga began with several female employees complaining to the Nike HR organization about sexual harassment issues.  The press noted it was apparently common practice for an HR representative to meet one-on-one with anyone who had a complaint, tell them they are the only person with such a complaint and suggest that it’s their own fault.

While it was easy for Nike to put a few individual complaints aside, what finally caused the problem to get serious attention was an employee survey that made it clear that a significant problem existed, and it was not just a few isolated incidents.  That led eventually to the dismissal of six high-level male executives, and finally a genuine acceptance by top management that there was a serious problem.

Stepping back, it should be common practice in all companies to regularly field employee surveys.  To get the most out of those surveys, there are three things that should be done to make them very valuable tools in isolating issues like Nike uncovered, and also gauging the quality of the leadership in individual departments and divisions.

1.) All Employees Should Participate in the Survey – In many organizations, HR simply sends out the forms and typically get 50% or so participation. Hence, you just don’t know how reliable the results are.   To trust the findings, you need to have all employees fill out and submit the survey.   Technology can provide a big help here.  The survey can be filled out online and security tools can be implemented that prevent connecting specific people with their responses but can report who participated and who didn’t so HR can follow up and make sure all employees respond.

2.) While Kept Anonymous, a Few Basic Demographics Are Needed – For example, employees should provide their level in the company, whether they are a manager or an individual contributor, which department they are in, gender, and other info that may be useful in analyzing effectiveness and isolating issues.  Importantly, software can enable us to make sure employee identity is protected, while also enabling us to break out the results by key demographics and sub-groups.

3.) Include Questions That Shed Light on the Work Environment and on Leadership – You want to include statements such as: Are the goals and strategies of my department clear?  Are work-environment concerns taken seriously and acted upon? Do I receive regular feedback from my boss?  Do I have confidence in the direction of my department?  Each of these questions should be rated on a five-point scale where: 1= strongly disagree, 2= disagree, 3=neutral, 4=agree, and 5=strongly agree.

Understanding what the workforce is experiencing is critical in any organization.  Having a tool to help gauge the performance in this area is highly valuable.

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