How good a boss are you?
After 34 years in the attitude-survey business and thousands of employee polls, David Sirota knows what your subordinates want. Do you? Check this out, then take our quiz.
NEW YORK (Fortune) -- "A large part of what a good boss does is expedite things for employees - that is, help them get their jobs done by removing obstacles. This is not at all the same as 'making sure' they get their jobs done by raising the anxiety level. Most people are anxious enough already." So says David Sirota, head of Sirota Survey Intelligence, a research firm headquartered in Purchase, N.Y., that has surveyed millions of employees in Fortune 500 companies since its founding in 1972.
Along with two co-authors, Sirota has summed up what the firm has discovered in a new book, "The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit by Giving Workers What They Want" (Wharton School Publishing, $26.95). We recently spoke about how to tell whether you're a good boss or a bad one. Some excerpts from our conversation:
To start with the most basic question: What makes a good boss, in employees' eyes?
All of our research consistently shows that people in general have three goals at work. First is fairness. They want to feel that they're being recognized and rewarded fairly for what they contribute. Second is achievement. People want to be proud of the organization and of their place in it. And third, camaraderie, meaning good working relationships and a sense of belonging to a team. If these three goals are met, you have enthusiastic employees.
The trouble is that, in most companies, morale among new hires is high and then, by about the six-month point, it has dropped sharply. Management has destroyed it. One thing bad bosses do is to deliberately make people feel insecure about their jobs. Another is, treat employees like children or criminals instead of like responsible adults.
A sign of a really bad boss is micromanaging, which I define as devoting punitive amounts of attention to minutiae. We've seen workplaces where people have to raise their hands if they want to go to the restroom. Another sign of a bad boss is when you hear employees say that they get no positive feedback at all. A common complaint is, "If we make a mistake, we hear about it, but for doing our jobs well, there is never a 'thank you'."
Just to play devil's advocate for a minute here, let me ask you this: Why should companies care whether employees are enthusiastic or not, as long as the work gets done?
Well, there is plenty of persuasive evidence of a direct link between employee morale and the overall performance of the company, including its stock price. That correlation seems to be a result of enthusiastic employees treating the company's customers particularly well. All of us at one time or another have dealt with an apathetic or even hostile customer-service person or salesperson and, by contrast, with someone who's enthused about his or her work. Enormous difference! A good or a bad direct boss is most often responsible for that.
And it can make or break a company's reputation. We recently did some work with the Mayo Clinic, whose prestige among patients and fellow practitioners comes partly from its employees' enthusiasm. We met nurses there who come in on their days off, just to check on their patients - not because they have to, but because they want to. But it's not just in the life-or-death medical profession that enthusiasm matters. We also worked with Keebler, and there was tremendous dedication and high morale there. People are pleased to be making a product that customers enjoy.
Don't most bosses - even rotten ones - think they are doing the right things? If you are a manager, how can you tell if you're a good boss or a bad one?
The surest way is to ask your people for feedback. How do they think you're doing? This is why 360-degree evaluations are so useful, because they give people the chance to offer you some constructive criticism. If your company has no formal 360-degree program, you have to seek out people's opinions yourself, and you may be glad you did. But you have to be careful how you ask, because people often are afraid to be honest with the boss. So you may need a bit of training in how to open the discussion so that you can actually learn something from it.