Truth Is Just Perception

Should A CEO Be Popular With Their Employees?

This is the question that one may ask after reading the latest opinion polls on major American CEOs.

Glassdoor is a website that specializes in assessing the popularity of CEOs of large U.S. corporations based on voluntary contributions of their employees. The media impact of the results provided by the site is inversely proportional to their scientific rigor.

In particular, the qualitative and quantitative representativeness of the surveys relies on random employee participation rather than on purposeful methodology. Such representation is uneven from one company to another, as we shall see.

Anyway, here are the top ten results of the latest Glassdoor surveys as reported by Forbes:

  1. Tim Cook, Apple, internal approval rate of 97% (two percentage points higher than the late Steve Jobs)
  2. Jim Turley, Ernst & Young, 95%
  3. Paul Jacobs, Qualcomm, 95%
  4. Ken Chenault, American Express, 94%
  5. Larry Page, Google, 94%
  6. Paul Otellini, Intel, 93%
  7. Pierre Nanterme, Accenture, 91%
  8. Paul Maritz, VMware, 90%
  9. Howard Schultz, Starbucks, 89%
  10. Blake Nordstrom, Nordstrom, 89%

Tim Cook – (CC) Valery Marchive

As emphasized by Business Insider, one of the big winners of these surveys is HP’s Meg Whitman who is entering the rankings with an internal approval rate of 81% (compared with 67% for her predecessor, Leo Apotheker). The performance of Whitman is one of the least scientifically relevant since her approval rating has been measured from the feedbacks of only 163 of HP’s 325,000 employees. But one shouldn’t be blamed for being happy and Whitman sure had a pleasant day after discovering the results.

Returning to the question I raised in the title of this article, my response is twofold:

  • corporate executives are all the more powerful when they have the support and hence the motivation of their teams. But there are also times when CEOs have to make unpopular decisions. They must then act for the good of the company (and the men and women who compose this company) rather than for the quality of their own image. When they want to please their employees in order to be popular, CEOs put their own interest before their corporation’s and show a lack of respect to their employees;
  • the best way, ultimately, for a CEO to be popular, even in the most difficult situations, is to communicate. Leaders who explain their toughest decisions and answer the questions of their teams have every opportunity to convince them of the relevance of their strategy.

And what is sometimes the best way for communications executives to be unpopular with their CEOs: To urge them to get in front of their employees in order to justify their decisions instead of just giving orders.

And so we have come full circle!

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