Survey: CEOs are 'disconnected' from staff

Business executives shaking hands
CEOs and staff are not making the right type of connection. (Getty/Martin Barraud)

C-suite executives, including CEOs, acknowledge that communication channels with employees are not operating at optimum levels, leading to difficulties putting in place key initiatives and retaining top talent.

Those are the findings of mobile app for businesses POPin, which collected responses from 163 business leaders, including C-level executives, across a variety of industries.

“There is a communications gap between leaders and employees,” Brian Anderson, chief marketing officer at POPin, told FierceCEO. “Many CEOs are not truly collaborative with their entire base. We need a more progressive way of dismantling this disconnect.”

Major losses

The ramifications are “loss of productivity, profitability and talent,” Anderson said.

One major factor is that employees are fearful to be truly honest with their boss, Anderson said. “What CEOs can do is engage their employees in truly comfortable conversations. Everyone would feel heard and it could uncover landmines that could hurt your organization.”

  • Some 56% of executives said they rely on email as the primary method of employee communication.
  • Only 21% of executives solicit feedback from employees in person, and often that feedback in not candid for fear of negative career consequences.
  • Some 41% of respondents say town hall meetings are “typically one sided” with information flowing from management to employees.
  • Some 47% of respondents say employee opinions are “only sometimes” heard and addressed in such meetings.
  • 45% of respondents fail to conduct town hall employee meetings at all.

Executives’ feedback

Most managers do not prioritize employee feedback when it comes to productivity improvements. Only 26% make this a “high priority.” Nearly 55% will listen to employee concerns but admit they are challenged to address them. Twenty percent said it is “too difficult” to sift through feedback to identify employee challenges.

Some 24% of respondents say they have “frequent” conversations with employees to solicit feedback but there is “no quantifiable method” to do so. Fifty-two percent say they have conversations with employees but often “do not receive candid feedback.” Twenty-five percent say there is “no process whatsoever” to gauge employee satisfaction.

Some 54% say employees will share their opinions but typically withhold critical feedback about the organization. Twenty-six percent consider that they have “open and honest” conversations with employees. Twenty percent say employees try to communicate honestly but are hesitant to offer critical feedback for fear that it would reflect poorly and affect their career.

'Surprise' resignations

Over half (53%) of managers can predict when an employee is not happy but are often unable to remediate the problem. Twenty-nine percent say it’s “usually a surprise” when an employee resigns. Only 18% do well at predicting employee dissatisfaction and can usually remediate the problem in time.

More than half (57%) of respondents say their company is “slightly out of alignment” on new initiatives and that it takes some time to come up the learning curve. Fourteen percent say employees are reluctant to embrace new ideas. Only 29% of respondents are “well aligned” and “in lockstep” with senior management.

About half (52%) of respondents say that although they have an “open line” of communication between departments, there’s “no solid process” to share ideas. Twenty-five percent say they are “not effective” at ideation with “limited interaction” with disparate departments. Only 23% of respondents they have a solid infrastructure in place to develop new ideas.

Responses were mixed on how ideas are sourced internally. Roughly one in five (22%) use an internal solution, 12% use social collaboration tools, 32% use a survey, 15% arrange large brainstorming sessions and 20% admit they “don’t know” how to source ideas and concerns from the organization.

Only 20% of respondents say that mobile has had a significant impact on employee communications. Thirty-nine percent say mobile capabilities have had a moderate impact, creating an important communication channel for alignment. Thirty-six percent say mobile has had no improvement on alignment and ideation. Only 5% consider mobile to be a hindrance.

Nimble actions

One in five say they have processes in place that enable senior management to react quickly to employee concerns. Forty-four percent say they have some processes but need to be more nimble in this area.

“Our research continues to show that that crowdsourcing techniques are an indispensable tool in helping management engage with employees to ensure the success of corporate initiatives,” Anderson said.