In SnackNation’s early years, CEO Sean Kelly was afraid of hearing raw and honest feedback from his team. “Even though I cared massively about what people were feeling, and how they felt the organization was serving them, I was a little bit scared to get feedback in the most open and vulnerable way,” says Sean.
SnackNation delivers healthy snacks to offices and homes across America. Sean is also the Founder of AwesomeOffice.org, an association dedicated to helping companies maximize employee engagement, productivity, and wellbeing.
“I knew that I was trying so hard to be a good leader and to be a good leader of leaders, and so I was scared to hear if people felt otherwise, or if they felt in strong opposition to some of my tactics,” he says.
Despite those early worries, Sean knew he wanted to check the pulse of the company culture. “What I realized is that when you address any issue head-on with authenticity, love, and care, and you address that to the entire group, it only makes the group stronger,” says Sean.
If you are willing to be authentic, transparent, and honest in your response to employees after hearing that feedback, this approach will work, says Sean.
Here are 3 other factors to keep in mind when checking the pulse of your company culture.
1. Share your “why”
Don’t underestimate the value of clarifying and sharing your purpose for collecting feedback, especially if you’ve never asked for feedback or measured engagement before.
“The only reason we exist as an organization is to benefit the individuals who work here. Our core purpose at SnackNation is to help people become better versions of themselves by serving as a catalyst for increased health, productivity, and happiness,” says Sean. That’s part of what’s explained to employees so that they know the intention behind gathering feedback, he says.
“They know that if that's our core purpose as a company, then we need to have ways to measure whether or not we're doing a good job of that.” Explaining your aim and clarifying how information will be used is the first step to getting more honest and valuable feedback from your people.
2. Ensure you’re asking the right questions
It’s one thing to be aware of how people are feeling and where the energy is at within your company. But it’s also important to have information that can help equip employees so that they can become better versions of themselves and achieve their goals. That’s where asking the right questions is critical, explains Sean.
“We look to ensure people are telling us information that is actually insightful, and that we're actually gaining real knowledge from our various questions.” This typically requires uncovering more than just feelings or emotions.
SnackNation uses a three-part model, based off self-determination theory, to help employees become more motivated, achieve more, and to become better versions of themselves. Three areas they assess over time include:
- Authenticity and purpose. Sean wants employees to be able to be themselves and show off the real version of themselves throughout their life.
- Human connection. People crave and need deep, meaningful relationships with one another; connections with others is also key to being satisfied and fulfilled.
- Growth. People need competence in their role, the belief that their work matters, and that they can improve at their work or grow their set of skills.
“By putting questions into those three buckets, we ensure that we're asking people questions around subjects that matter, not around those things that don't,” says Sean. Using this as a framework, questions are designed that focus on the person's purpose, authenticity, contributions, and their relationships.
One current SnackNation survey uses a Likert scale to measure an employees’ agreement and/or disagreement with a certain statement that captures these drivers of engagement. Statements in the engagement and wellness survey include:
- My job gives me a feeling of personal accomplishment.
- I get the training I need to do my job well.
- I have a clear understanding of my expectations.
- I understand how my contributions impact the company.
- I have the tools necessary to effectively do my job.
- I have open and honest communication with my manager.
- I trust my manager
- I trust the leaders at SnackNation.
3. Practice vulnerability
“In the past, I thought as a leader; I had to have all the answers, but now I know that is not true,” says Sean.
“You don't have to have everything figured out to answer people’s questions or to gauge and measure what’s going on in the company. We have an organization of almost 150 people, and we don't have everything figured out,” adds Sean.
Also recognize that culture and engagement are never going to be “perfect.” “There's always going to be people who will feel like things should be done differently—and that's okay,” he explains.
“Having that vulnerability is absolutely key and essential to getting feedback, and it was recognizing and being okay with telling people, ‘I don't know—but if this is something that's important, then we'll dig in.’”
“If you have a question for your employees, and it’s a question in which you are scared to hear what the answers may be—that's exactly a question that you need to ask,” says Sean. Embrace vulnerability as a leader so that you can advance the organization forward.
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