The firm I work for has recently received numerous requests from clients to assist them with employee surveys. My experience is that the difficulty with employee surveys is not conducting them, but truly listening to the results — a truth that was reinforced to me while watching the classic holiday program, A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Linus Speaks Up
Towards the end of the program, ever-beleaguered Charlie Brown — despairing over the commercialization of Christmas — asks, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” His wise friend, Linus, steps forward calmly and confidently and gives an answer for the ages (click here):
It strikes me that Linus’ answer, like so many organizational truths, was known to all — but unspoken but by a few. It took someone willing to ask the question … and someone willing to say what everyone was thinking … for the answer to come forth.
Missing the “Ah-Ha” Moment
A company I worked for used to conduct an employee survey every year about this time. For several years, they received consistent answers to a number of questions surrounding “What can we do to improve the company?” Responses were invariably to the effect of, “Communication between managers and employees is very poor,” “The company doesn’t seem to have a clear direction,” “I personally like my manager, but people don’t have a lot of confidence in the management team in general,” and the like.
Unfortunately, rather than trying to solve the communication and confidence issues that the employees identified, the management team — hurt and perplexed by the perennially negative results — decided to discontinue the survey. (Yes — a heavy sigh, indeed. They did have a penchant for learning the wrong lesson, I‘m afraid).
A Hopeful Ending
The story above — albeit all too common, I’m afraid — isn’t the only possible conclusion to these issues, of course. To end where we began, the closing scene of A Charlie Brown Christmas offers a dose of hope that groups that wish to learn from evident truths can do so. After Linus’ heartfelt proclamation, the Peanuts gang has a chance to reflect of what he’s said and, one by one, they reconsider their views on a symbolically important issue — the beauty of Charlie Brown’s scraggly but noble tree. In the end, the tree is given tender loving care and it “grows” into a true thing of beauty as the group gathers around it for a heartwarming hymn.
Once spoken out loud, Linus’ wisdom was taken to heart and behaviors changed. Here’s wishing that each of us can help our leadership teams to seek out, embrace, and act on the evident truths in our organizations in the coming year. Happy New Year to all!