Top 10 Worst Corporate Cultures

As the war for talent becomes more and more fierce,  job seekers are doing their research before making their decisions.  One the key things they are looking for is a good work environment. With employees flocking to Glassdoor and Indeed to tell the world what’s going on inside the company, it’s becoming more difficult to hide a bad culture.

My experience looking inside 50+ companies ranging from $10M to $150B has given me the ability to notice trends, and even more so, to predict why a company is having problems. And what I’ve found is getting to the root of operational problems usually involves uncovering cultural ones.

A toxic culture can sabotage the best strategy and make it impossible to hire talent. So how do you know if your culture is toxic?  Sites like Glassdoor and Indeed make it easy.  For this article I used Glassdoor’s company review information to make a list of the top 10 worst corporate cultures.

How does Glassdoor get this information?

“Glassdoor calculates company ratings using a proprietary ratings algorithm, with an emphasis on recency of reviews. With this improvement, we’re giving job seekers and employers what they’ve asked of us – the freshest perspective on what it’s really like to work inside any company, according to employees.”

Company ratings are based on a 5-point scale, and the CEO percentage and the “recommend to a friend” are part of the company review process. While I like this format, the variance seemed too big and therefore I’ve added my own rating using A through F, including – or + depending where they fall into the range. 

  • 0.00 – 1.50 Employees are “Very Dissatisfied” (CZ rating is F)

  • 1.51 – 2.50 Employees are “Dissatisfied” (CZ rating is D-, D, D+)

  • 2.51 – 3.50 Employees say it’s “OK” (CZ rating is C-, C, C+)

  • ​3.51 – 4.00 Employees are “Satisfied” (CZ rating is B-, B, B+)

  • ​4.01 – 5.00 Employees are “Very Satisfied” (CZ rating is A-, A, A+)

I’ve listed these in order using the overall rating, with the lowest score last.


1. Kraft Heinz

Glassdoor rating: 3.0 out of 5 (up from 2.7 in 2018)
CZ rating: C
CEO: Bernardo Hees
CEO Approval: 57%
Recommend to a friend: 39%

It’s easy to understand why this company culture is in the dumps. After the merger of Kraft and Heinz, major shareholder 3G Capital appointed the cost cutting CEO Bernardo Hees to take the helm in hopes of monetizing their investment.  Hees ruthless strategy of major job and expense cutting worked for a short time, delivering over 20 percent margins, but appears to have fatigued the organization.  Unless you strategically invest in improved technology, processes and people to streamline work, these cuts can bleed an organization to death.

An example of this is captured in these comments;

“A lot is expected from the employees, making work/life balance challenging.”

No work life balance (11 hour days have become the norm)” or “Toxic environment” sums up the culture at Kraft Heinz.

This theme of work life balance showed up in over 400 reviews, which screams red flag for any employee considering going to work there.

I’ve said this many times in my book on restructuring and I’ll say it again, you CAN NOT cut your way to growth.  And you will never create loyal, engaged employees with this mindset. I have my eye on Kraft Heinz and Hees to see their results for the next quarter.

2. Sears

Glassdoor rating: 2.8 out of 5
CZ rating: C-
CEO: Edward S. Lampert
CEO Approval: 18%
Recommend to a friend: 29%

Are you surprised?  Sears has been on a downward spiral for over a decade, with no hopes of ever recovering. As for the culture, I have some inside information from two people who used to work as executives for Sears about the culture and “Eddie”.  Mr. Lampert scored the lowest CEO Approval on the list, for good reason.

If you work in the corporate office and want a life, forget it. This workaholic CEO expects his employees to put in weekday evenings and weekends without any recognition or financial rewards.  If you work in the stores, it’s just as bad based on reviews from Indeed, like this quote from a former employee.

“Unrealistic expectations, unbalanced  work load. upper management do little to no work” and “underpay, got mistreated by the managers”.

Another issue in the stores is the negative remarks from the customers. “When do you think Sears will declare bankruptcy?”  This can’t be a healthy environment, but the salespeople say it’s a pretty normal response from customers.

The future of Sears is pretty dim, it’s only a matter of time before the light goes out for good.

3. CompuCom

Glassdoor rating: 2.7 out of 5
CZ rating: C-
CEO: Greg Hoogerland
CEO Approval: 44%
Recommend to a friend: 36%

Labeled as some of the most dissatisfied workers in the country, CompuCom, a wholly subsidiary of Office Depot, will have its fifth CEO in the last five years, as Dan Stone leaves and Greg Hoogerland steps in. And boy does he have some icky shoes to step into.

With that kind of turnover, there’s no way the employees feel loyal and certainly can’t be engaged. These musical chairs are killing the culture and creating fear in the employees. Not knowing the leadership style, and having to figure it out once a new CEO takes the helm is extremely stressful to employees. So it goes without saying that fewer than half of the company’s employees approved of CEO Dan Stone, and just 37% would recommend a job at the company to a friend.

Given the turnover at the top, it’s not a surprise to read this from a director level employee on Glassdoor;

“Worked for a few companies and this company is one of the most dishonest, unprofessional organizations I have be acquainted with” .

Woah…that hurts!

4. DISH Network

Glassdoor rating: 2.7 out of 5
CZ rating: C-
CEO: W. Erik Carlson
CEO Approval: 47%
Recommend to a friend: 38%

Back in 2012, Glassdoor named Dish the worst place to work for and the then CEO Joe Clayton said “That’s ridiculous.” He didn’t believe the employee complaints and focused instead on the technology DISH was creating.

In 2017 Erik Carlson was named CEO and restructured the organization in hopes of better synergies and communication. While it’s not THE WORST company to work for, it’s still in the top 10.

A former manager stated, “I left DISH because I was over worked, over stressed, and not appreciated for the amount of time I gave the company (12-15 hours a day as a manager). “

A the center of most of the employee complaints was the feeling of stress and under appreciation. When people feel supported, respected and appreciated, they will put the extra work in. I’m interested to see Mr. Carlson’s approach to improving the culture, if at all. The good news is he didn’t call the reviews ridiculous, but then again he probably won’t read them.

5. Xerox

Glassdoor rating: 2.7 out of 5
CZ rating: C-
CEO: John Visentin
CEO Approval: 38%
Recommend to a friend: 34%

John Visentin was named CEO in May 2018 with the hope that Xerox will be transformed back to it’s glory days of being a market leader and an admired company to work for. He’s got quite a challenge after reading through some of the more seasoned and experienced employees.

I reached out to John since I am about 10 minutes from their offices to offer some help. I’ve seen this before and have had success getting quick wins that the board and analysts like to see. Have not heard back but I get the sense he’s up to his ears trying to make an impact to a business that has sharp competition from Ricoh, Konica Minolta and HP.  With that much pressure, where do you the 39,000 employees fit into his schedule?  I can’t imagine CULTURE is top on his list to things improve, but I could be wrong.

Take a read from CURRENT employee reviews on Glassdoor. I was shocked by the candor of some of these employees who still work there!

Executive with 9 yrs
“New leadership with no real vision other than maximizing cash flow.  The company is in shambles….

“Wall Street investors (you know who you are) have forced senior leadership to abandon our core belief system. The customer is no longer #1. In fact, they no longer solicit customer feedback – at all.”

FP&A Manager
“20 yrs employed. They treat people very badly and are constantly sending jobs overseas. Are not running the company as a going concern.”

Manager with 6 yrs at job
“THEFT!!! Robbing employees to improve balance sheet. Hard working employees getting screwed so Xerox’s cash flow is better for earnings.”

6. Alorica

Glassdoor rating: 2.6 out of 5
CZ rating: C-
CEO: Andy Lee
CEO Approval: 46%
Recommend to a friend: 38%

Mr. Andy Lee founded Alorica Inc. in 1999 and still serves as its Chairman and CEO.  While his goal was to improve customer experiences and his entrepreneurial talents, he clearly has no idea how to build a safe work environment.

One thing is for sure, there are major problems with their culture. In an EEOC lawsuit filed in September 2017, the suit alleged widespread sexual harassment by managers at Irvine-based Alorica

As one of the nation’s largest call center firms, they ended up paying $3.5 million to settle charges that its customer service representatives were “openly propositioned for sex, leered at and touched by supervisors and co-workers,” and the company retaliated against them when they complained.

This review by an employee on Glassdoor said it best;

“There are no redeeming qualities to working at Alorica other than the fact that you can get hired on the spot.”

7. Genesis HealthCare

Glassdoor rating: 2.5 out of 5
CZ rating: D+
CEO: George Hager
CEO Approval: 29%
Recommend to a friend: 28%

While Mr. Hager has taken the company from $200M to $5.4B in his tenure, the employees don’t think too highly of good ole George. His low approval rating is less to be desired.

What’s interesting about Genesis HealthCare is the pay.  An average salary is $85,000, well above the national average for the most common position in the industry.

While their tag line is “We change lives”, the employees think otherwise as seen in these reviews;

Upper management not in touch with the needs of staff in the facilities” (in 81 reviews)

“Large corporations can some times be impersonal for patient care” (in 53 reviews)

With this kind of remark the idea of patient care as a business first comes to mind. It makes you wonder what short cuts they may be taking to continue Hager’s growth track record.  Whatever the case, the all too common theme of management not in touch with the people doing the work evident here. The people may stay for the paycheck, but their heart isn’t loyal to the company and that will always flow down to the customer.

8. Conduent

Glassdoor rating: 2.5 out of 5
CZ rating: D+
CEO: Ashok Vemuri
CEO Approval: 39%
Recommend to a friend: 35%

Like many other companies on this list, Conduent is having financial issues that are impacting the culture. The company’s revenue fell from $6.7 billion in 2015 to $6.4 billion in 2016 to $6.0 billion in 2017. Job pressure from a companies’ poor financial performance can be felt all the way down the organization.

As the stress mounts the managers push harder on the employees doing the work as seen in this quote from an employee on Indeed;

“The management does not care about the employees. The hours are horrible. Overtime is expected at the last minute and it is mandatory. “

From the research I’ve conducted it looks appears the senior managers are untouchable. If that’s the case it’s nearly impossible to have a trust, respect and a good culture.  Reading some of the statements made me cringe, including this one by a former mid- level employee.

“It’s constant work and you can’t even take a break without a manager following you to the bathroom to ask what you’re doing. ”  Yikes!

The job is not hard, it’s just not a place to stay unless you have nothing else to do in life.

Run, don’t walk, away from an opportunity here.

9. Frontier Communications

Glassdoor rating: 2.4 out of 5 (declined from 2.5)
CZ rating: D+
CEO: Dan McCarthy
CEO Approval: 17% (declined from 22%)
Recommend to a friend: 25%

The company as a whole is mess.  In the last year, Frontier’s share price took a 50% nosedive, falling from over $19 a share to less than $8.  If that didn’t hurt enough, senior executives have been denied bonuses in each of the last two years — partially a result of the company’s poor performance on Wall Street. With this kind of track record it’s amazing anyone goes to work there.  It is common place for employees to post about its negative culture on Glassdoor and Indeed.

This comment pretty much sums up Frontier’s employee issues;

“Worked their 4 yrs, never received a performance review, never received any formal coaching, was basically on my own from day 1 to figure things out. People were great, however Senior Management lacked a clear direction. Moved the business offshore and back onshore 3 times in less than 2 years.”

With that kind of haphazard changes, it’s no wonder the company is having the issues with employees and management.  Forget about loyalty and retention.

10. The Fresh Market

Glassdoor rating: 2.3 out of 5 (declined from 2.4)
CZ rating: D
CEO: Larry Appel
CEO Approval: 30%
Recommend to a friend: 26%


Based on employee reviews on Glassdoor, grocery store chain The Fresh Market is the worst U.S. company to work for. It is the only qualifying company with a Glassdoor rating of 2.3, a decline from 2.4 only a year ago.

The Fresh Market employees regularly complain about the company’s senior leadership. Just 30% of reviewers approve of the job CEO Larry Appel is doing, and his leadership team scored even lower with a shocking paltry 1.9 out of 5.0 rating.

If this isn’t a sign of a major culture problem in the company I don’t know what is.  But what are they doing about it? I called the corporate office to speak to Human Resources to get some insight, but alas, no one returned my calls.

In summary, these companies are just the tip of the iceberg.  Other notables all in the retail arena are Forever 21 and Family Dollar, but there are hundreds of companies, both public and private, whose cultures are hurting the companies financial performance.

With the war on talent, employees have options, and having a great culture ensures attracting the best people.  Culture is a competitive advantage, period, end of story.  As millennials continue to flood the job market, they are looking for a company that provides a mission and values as demonstrated through their actions and not just words.

But, when a company has warning signs like the ones above, it’s usually a too late and a major change management plan must be put into place that will take years to see any benefits. Why do CEOs not understand their biggest asset are their people and by creating the right environment for them to thrive, this helps them achieve their business goals.  It’s easier to manage people who like coming to work and doing their job. Pretty simple, yet hard to understand by these companies and many more who look only at the bottom line as their sign of success.





What Happens When A CEO Speaks Last?

Curious to know what happens when a CEO speaks last?  I was too, so I leaned back and observed several of my CEO clients in action.

One of the most important things I do in my job is observe.  I sit back and watch.  I watch how people interact in meetings, during lunch breaks and while on video calls.  While most consultants want to be hidden in an office, I prefer to be where the action is, setting up in an open area so I can observe day to day behaviors of people working. With my  background in behavioral science, I’ve learned how to read people’s words and actions to identify the root cause and agenda for their behaviors.

While this is a great skill for my job, it’s even better for the CEO, but not that common.  Most CEOs feel the need to be in control and vocal at meetings with their executive leadership team.   I mean, isn’t that why they are where they are, to lead their team in discussions and drive towards solutions?

But, what if they didn’t.  What if  they “leaned back” instead of charging forward, allowing their team to come up with ideas and solutions.

There are some CEOs that empower their teams to take control and bring forth solutions, but that has some risk with it and most are hesitant to hand over the reins. Now, I’m not saying they should release all control, but incorporating an exercise of leaning back in meetings and speaking last so as to hear others ideas is a risk worth taking.

Having worked with over 30 CEOs, I have found a distinct difference in the performance of leadership teams based on if the CEO leans back, observes and empowers versus CEOs who feel the need to control every situation.

What is ‘leaning back”?

It’s a simple approach used in relationships.   There are two aspects to it, physical and mental, and the goal of it is to put the other party at ease.  By leaning back and listening, you create a space of receptiveness and in turn, an opportunity to understand.

This is easier said than done.  I was working on a restructuring with a CEO who had been in his role for dozens of years.  I had noticed that in a leadership team meeting, he would start off by giving an introduction to the problems we were looking to solve that week, then go right into a long speech about how to fix them. When he was finished he would ask what his team thought.

By then, (he was long winded), most of the leadership team was disengaged, and knowing he had already made up his mind on the actions to take, they simple went along and nodded their heads in agreement.

The couple of people who did raise their hand to provide a different approach were reluctant, and their delivery was less than effective.  Most started their response with, “You’re approach is great, and I was thinking maybe we could….”

The meetings weren’t that effective and the CEO would ask why his team wasn’t as innovative as he would like them to be.

Learning to Speak Last

Hearing my client’s frustration, I asked if he would try an exercise I’d used many times in the past with great success.  I told him it would require a different mindset and was not going to be easy. He paused but agreed to try it.

I suggested the following:

  1.   Ask the team to come to the meeting with “What If” scenarios, basically ideas on how to solve whatever problems the company was working on.
  2.   Speak last or not at all during the meeting, lean back and just listen.

He began this exercise hesitantly, but once he implemented it he began to see a big change in how his team was performing. They were excited for the meetings and would laugh about who was going to share their “What If’s” first.  The entire meeting had shifted from a long, drawn out speech by the CEO to a collaborative, idea generating session.

And more importantly, the solutions were coming from the team, not the CEO.  The endless nights of worrying about how to fix the problems in the business were eliminated by his team’s engagement and critical thinking.

The Mind Game

Now, you’re probably wondering how this is possible. Well, let’s take a look at what happens when a CEO speaks last versus first.

When you speak first, you are basically setting the tone for an “agree with me” culture.  Most executives don’t want to have conflict with their CEO boss, so they are less likely to voice opinions that may be different.  Even more so, they want to be seen as a team player, and having an opposing opinion from the CEO may put them in a less favorable position than their brown nosing counterparts.

When you speak last, you are allowing everyone in the room a chance to express their points of view.  Most feel comfortable opposing their colleagues and if they have good relationships, it may even be fun as each gets their turn to demonstrate their problem solving savvy.

The approach of listening and not speaking allows the CEO to hear different ideas and understand the thought processes of his or her team. When you have diverse ideas you can build upon the ones that make the most sense, creating an efficient problem solving process.

Another advantage when a CEO speaks last is that people feel safe in that the CEO is listening to understand and digest the information, not respond.  Having this feeling of safety at work results in a more productive and engaged leadership team, who are willing to speak up about what they believe is best for the company.

Lastly, with empathy becoming one of the most critical skills for a CEO, speaking last demonstrates an openness and trust that bonds the leadership team,  creating loyalty and better overall performance.

It goes without saying that this is a mind game, and a good one at that.  Eventually, using this approach at every level of the organization begins to build the competency of critical thinking and listening.  The result is a culture that feels empowered to share ideas and the value of respect by listening to others.  And who doesn’t want a culture of innovative problem solving and workplace collaboration?



How to Create Work Life Balance at Work

To start, what’s my story and why do I think I can help you create Work Life Balance?

I was just like most people working full time…

  • Corp career of more than 20+ yrs
  • Long hours and travel for work
  • No time for me or my family

I was unhappy at work and home due to lack of work/life balance.


I studied for 10 years with top neuroscientists, PHD’s and behavioral science experts to create the techniques I will share with you today. My goal for today is to teach you how to take control of your time and set up your life in a way that makes you feel good about work and your life.

Today I’ll teach you 4 HACKS to increase Work/Life Balance:

BUT FIRST…Let’s take a poll:

How many of you struggle with balancing work and your personal life?

If you said, “I DO”, then you’re not alone and there are studies to prove it.

Recent work in 2018 at UC Berkeley defines work/life balance or “Happiness at Work” as:

“An overall sense of enjoyment, feeling intrinsically driven to make progress towards goals and knowing that what I do matters at work and home.

Does that resonate with you? It did for me. The feeling of “Ugh” I have to go to work today, was weighing heavily on my personal life and I wanted it to stop. But first I had to understand what it was.

What does Work/Life Balance look like?

  • An overall feeling or sense of enjoyment at work and play.
  • Being able to gracefully handle conflict, situations and setbacks at work and home.
  • Connecting amicably with colleagues, coworkers, clients, customers, friends and family
  • Knowing YOU matter. Knowing that your work matters to yourself, your organization, and beyond.  You know you matter.


Studies show that 55 to 80% of us believe it’s normal to see work as something to be endured, not enjoyed.

HOWEVER, Not only is it possible to find happiness at work, but that doing so is unambiguously good for you!

Happier employees do better on all fronts, from day-to-day health to productivity to career advancement, and this consistently perks up the bottom line for the organization as a whole.

Do me a favor and answer these questions:

  • Is your job the #1 source of stress in your life?
  • Have you taken a day to just “chill” and re-coop from work?
  • Do you feel exhausted or burned out every day after work?

Take a look at the data below.  It’s scary how much job stress affects so many people!

Scientific evidence proves these 4 pillars are vital to work/life balance or Happiness at Work and it’s PERK.

  • P = Passion
  • E = Engagement
  • R = Resilience
  • K = Kindness


Let’s take a deeper dive into what these mean.

Purpose:   “knowing that your work matters to you, your organization and the world.”

Engagement: a “positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind.” In other words, an engaged employee has a strong sense of “vigor towards, dedication to, and absorption in work activities.”

Resilience: being able to “handle adversity with grace, to face challenges and recover from setbacks, be accountable for failures and resolve conflict at work.”

Kindness:  a broader orientation towards forming strong, supportive, social connections at work that scientists call “pro-social”, that help us interact in trusting, inclusive, and cooperative ways with people at work from customers to bosses.

So how do you achieve PERK? With these 4 Hacks!

Hack #1:  Lifestyle Engineering

Unfortunately, in American culture, we tend to build our entire lives around our work – from where we live to who we socialize with.  This type of work-centric focus can really wreak havoc on the whole work-life balance thing.

Lifestyle engineering is a pretty cool concept that has to do with deciding what you want out of your life.

Exercise 1:

  • Start by writing what your dream day might look like while during your personal time.
  • Then look at your personal time and add a value to how much you like this activity.
  • Maybe it’s going to the gym, or painting or playing an instrument or on a baseball team or doing crossword puzzles…whatever it is, put a rating from 1-5 how much you like it.



ActivityTimes per WeekRatingEmotionTime
Family Dinner Time55Love1 hour
Friends: Dinner/Movies14Happy 3 hours
Yoga35Zen1 hour
Hiking15Inspired1 hour
Writing14Creative1 hour


Total time: 14 hours a week

Now, set aside that time for yourself to do these things. Maybe you can’t do all of them, but find a way to do at least 1-2.  Do not let work infringe on these activities. Put the phone on silent and enter an               automated message that says, “I’m sorry, I’m not available now.” Eventually, you’ll make it a habit and   look forward to these activities.


Hack #2: Set Up Boundaries 

  • Probably the most important thing you can do for yourself is set up boundaries with your manager and co-workers about what is acceptable to you when it comes to work responsibilities during personal time.
  • Answer these questions:
    • Do you find you’re answering emails, texts or phone calls at 10:00pm at night or over the weekend?
    • Does your manager assume you’ll take work home?
    • Do you have flexibility in your schedule to attend to family or take care of your health?

The thing is, the company will go on, so take that time off, take that vacation and be at the important events in your life, because work is not your life, it’s just want you do to earn a living.

In a recent study, it showed that 50% of employees don’t take the full vacation time given by their company.

Why would you do that?

It’s the time you need to refresh your mind, to renew your body and soul, even if you do a staycation, being away from work for a period of time actually increases your engagement which increases your performance.

Exercise #2

  • “Schedule” time for yourself. Use the Lifestyle Engineering as your guide.
  • Block out on your work calendar your personal time so it is clearly seen.
    • If you work until 6pm, then block out from 6-11pm “personal time”.
    • On the weekends, block out the entire weekend so when people try to schedule a call or a meeting, it shows “busy”.
    • Put your phone on silent with an automated message that says, “It’s after hours and I’m not responding to phone or emails.” Eventually, your boss, manager and colleagues will get the hint and stop bothering you.

Hack #3: Learn to say “NO”

Why is it so hard for people to say NO?

This counts for work and in your personal life. Our inability to say NO is exhausting us!


It is making us bitter and resentful because we feel obligated to help and say yes.

One way I like to say NO, in a nice way, is to use these short phrases.  I memorize them so I can just say it without having to think.

* “I’d love to help, but I have other responsibilities I need to focus on right now.”

* “What a great idea, I wish I could help but I’m committed to another project and would not do a good job at getting this done.”

* “Thank you so much for asking, and I’m definitely up to help out next time, but can’t right now.”

* “I give 100% when I’m at work, and I also give 100% when I’m at home to rest, recover and revive so I CAN give 100% at work. Without down time, I’m not going to perform my best.”

Memorizing phrases creates an automated response and trains the unconscious mind to react with “NO” response before YES.

Exercise #3

  • Make a list of 1-2 phrases for each category of your life:
    • Work
    • Friends
    • Family
  • Next, practice with a person you like and trust.

To practice, one person acts as the boss, a friend, and a family member, and asks to have something done. Then switch. Both have had the chance to practice.

Hack #4:  Communicate Expectations

Communicating expectations is such an important piece when you’re creating work/life balance.

Expectations are set through clear communication about what you can and cannot do.  Communicating with your boss is crucial if you are struggling at work.  Most managers have been in your shoes and know what that struggle feels like.

  • The best way to communicate expectations is with regular 1×1’s.
  • Set up a meeting with your boss with a specific written agenda regarding your work AND your work/life balance.
  • Getting this subject on your agenda makes it easy to discuss the subject.
  • During the conversation, don’t get emotional, just state the facts about your situation and tell them what you need to be more balanced and productive.

A few examples of how to approach this are:

  1. Be honest.

Using the sentences below as an outline can help you when you are ready to have that sit down or phone conversation. The key is to provide examples!

“I’d like to discuss how I’m feeling about the balance between work and my personal life.”

 “I love my job, but I also love my _______________ (fill in the blank).”

“I would appreciate it if I was able to enjoy my (fill in the blank) uninterrupted from calls,

emails or texts during off hours.”

  1. Be empathetic:

Look at it as if you were in their shoes.

“I know you have a lot of responsibility and I do my best to exceed expectations at work.”

 “But I can’t be my best if I can’t unwind from work.”

“I am here if you need me, and respect you and the work you do. Please understand it is important to me to have the space to find happiness outside of work.”

  1. Ask for HELP:

If you are feeling overwhelmed, it’s OK to ask for help.

Communicate through clear, concise language, even tempered, without EXCUSES.

“I value your experience and leadership and would really like your help with  _________________ (fill in the blank).

If they can’t help you themselves, they can point you to someone or a resource that can.

  1. Use a simple measurement to manage Work/Life Balance

Using a rating scale that’s easy for your boss to understand and allows you to be aligned.  Come to every meeting with the scale. Be consistent with updating your boss on how you’re doing.

Here’s a fun one I like to use.

Final Thoughts:

Work/Life Balance is UP TO YOU.  By incorporating these 4 Hacks you can create an environment at work

that brings the best out of you.  Happiness at work is critical for employees BUT also for companies.


The happier you are at work, the more productive you’ll be and the better the company will perform!

Empathetic Leadership: Why CEOs Need It To Improve Their Culture And Bottom Line

Empathetic Leadership, it’s a skill most CEOs aren’t aware of that could make the difference between meeting numbers versus exceeding them.

Think a companies’ culture doesn’t affect the bottom line? How about a CEO’s empathy?

As competition in the market becomes fierce, the need to differentiate and create a competitive advantage is palpable. We all know having the best “talent” and “innovation” are key components of a company that stands out from the rest, but what if I told you “culture” is an untapped vehicle to increase the bottom line?

If culture is the gold medal, then empathetic leadership is the secret weapon to win it.

According to research by Deloitte, “mission-driven” companies have 30% higher levels of innovation and 40%  higher levels of employee retention. In addition, a 2016 poll by Gallup showed that higher workplace engagement leads to 37% lower absenteeism and 41%  fewer quality defects.  Clearly, having a good culture with engaged employees results in lower costs, but how do you quantify it?

There are lots of survey companies ready to help you measure your employee engagement, a $1Billion marketplace in fact, but the problem is the survey companies simple supply the data, they don’t tell you what actions you need to implement to improve.

In an article by the Conference Board called, “The Engagement Institute: How organizations create and sustain highly engaging cultures,” some surprising data was revealed from a survey including 80 of the most advanced users of engagement surveys; only 50% believe their executives know how to build a culture of engagement.

And why would they know how to create a culture of engagement, their job is to run the business, not be a culture expert, right?


It Starts At The Top

A corporate culture starts at the top.  We all know the saying, “a fish rots from the head down,”  and the same goes for a company culture.  The leadership takes cues from the CEO, the managers take cues from the leadership and eventually it trickles down into every layer of the organization.  Even HR policies are reflective of the CEOs attitude, values and ideals.

In other words, the CEO is the captain of the ship, and whichever way he or she steers, the rest of the organization is going to follow.

With that much power to affect a companies culture, what skill does a CEO need to improve it?

Empathetic Leadership

In a study conducted by Businesssolver, 87% of CEOs agree that a company’s financial performance is tied to empathy, and 43% strongly agree.

More data suggests empathy is the foundation of employee engagement. Empathetic behavior shows people they are being heard and therefore appreciated.


  • 8 in 10 CEOs, employees and HR professionals agree that an empathetic workplace has a positive impact on business performance.
  • 9 in 10 employees are more likely to stay with an organization that empathizes with their needs.
  • 8 in 10 would be willing to work longer hours and take slightly less pay for a more empathetic employer and empathetic leadership.
  • Majorities in all demographics of employees responded that empathy motivates workers and increases productivity.


In a blog post last month, I outlined the model for “Happiness at Work”( the PERK model ) from my training at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.  What is implied in that model is under the K (Kindness) is Empathetic Leadership.

Empathy enables those who possess it to see the world through others’ eyes and understand their unique perspectives. And YES, it can be learned, which is why I call it a skill.  Being more mindful, aware and open to others is something that requires practice and observation.

Best In the Business

A great example of using Empathetic Leadership is by Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. In his new book, “Hit Refresh” he describes how he views empathy in business and in life .

“At the core, Hit Refresh is about us humans and the unique quality we call empathy,
which will become ever more valuable in a world where the torrent of technology will
disrupt the status quo like never before.”

“It’s a quality my wife, Anu, helped me begin to learn when our son was born with severe
disabilities 21 years ago. It’s a quality that shapes our mission of empowerment at Microsoft
and our quest to meet unmet and unarticulated needs of customers.  And it’s the quality that
helps us as a society move forward in creating new opportunity for all.”


Satya also discusses how empathy has led to Microsoft’s newest products.

“Empathy makes you a better innovator.
If I look at the most successfulproducts we
[at Microsoft] have created, it comes with that ability tomeet the unmet, unarticulated needs
of customers.”



Measuring Empathetic Leadership

Still not convinced Empathetic Leadership is a CEO’s Superpower? Take a look at the data that proves the point even further.

The Global Empathy Index, spearheaded by Lady Geek founder, Belinda Parmar, is an initiative that relies on data to validate the importance of empathy in business. Within the yearly index, companies are ranked not by an empty public commitment to empathy, but by measuring tangible indicators — from employee opinions to environmental practices. And the results show a “direct link between empathy and commercial success.”

One of the best examples is KIND Founder and CEO, Daniel Lubetzky. He is a shining beacon for young executives to follow as leadership changes direction and evolves from a top down management style to a more open and empathetic style .


“What’s interesting is that as my thinking has evolved – I’m on my fourth business now –
it has become clearer that empathy and kindness offer a distinct competitive advantage.
When I understand people with ease, I can accomplish more in both my business and my
private life. ”

“Being able to access these skills is especially valuable in those moments when you feel
and your fight/flight instinct kicks in. If you can ask yourself questions like,
“where is this person coming from?” then you’re able to get to a more productive
place quicker, thereby creating value for business and society.”


Proof of Empathetic Leadership creating value in companies can be seen in the top 10 companies in the Global Empathy Index 2015 that increased in value more than twice as much as the bottom 10 and generated 50% more earnings.  Average earnings among the top 10 were up 6% this year, while the average earnings of the bottom 10 dropped 9%.

Empathy also has a positive impact on employee retention.  According to Businessolver’s study;

– 95% of employees are more likely to stay with an organization that empathized with their needs

– 81% of workers would be willing to work longer hours for empathetic employers

– 60% would be willing to take a pay cut to work for an empathetic company and empathetic leadership.

and shockingly,

– 92%of CEOs believe their organizations are empathetic while only 50% of employees report having an empathetic CEO.

Closing the Gap 

Why is there such a big gap between what the CEOs think and what their employees think?  It’s simple really.

Millennials think, act and communicate differently than their baby boomer bosses. They have different expectations from their jobs, the leadership and the company as a whole.

They are looking for a deeper connection to their work, a purposeful position with a company that means something to them, that walks the walk and doesn’t BS them. Salary and benefits are secondary to this generation.  This generation has new ways of seeing and doing things, they are technology savvy and have a voice, and they want to be heard and understood.

As talent becomes more difficult to acquire, companies with CEOs who understand culture and empathy as key pieces to improving the bottom line, will come out on top.  A poor culture and a CEO who doesn’t learn Empathetic Leadership will find their employees jumping ship for less pay but a better environment.

Empathy is a skill to win the hearts of employees and create a culture that is good for the bottom line and a competitive advantage for the company.

Ways To Demonstrate Empathetic Leadership

What are some basic things a CEO’s can do to demonstrate Empathetic Leadership in their organization?

  1. Surround yourself with diversity. Seek out employees from different countries, religions, races, etc and listen to their trials and tribulations with a project or goal or even a personal event that they struggled with. This helps to give you insight into what others have experienced that can make an impact on their thinking.
  2. Cultivate relationships at every level of the organization: Conduct Skip Levels roundtables where the managers are not present. Go to every office and have a discussion about what they like and dislike about the company using metaphors in stories or charades. It’s fun and gives you insight into what’s happening in the organization.
  3. Listen to hear and observe, not respond. Do not speak in a meeting, allow others to manage the conversation and simply observe body moments, tone and tempo of their voice, how they communicate their ideas, the words they use, etc.  This is give you insight into how people are feeling and whether they are living the company values or not.
  4. Do not speak until the other person feels they were heard. In person-to-person meetings, reflect what you heard back to them, and check for understanding.  Do not look at your phone, 100% precent by focusing on what the person is saying. Follow up with an email outlining what you heard and any plan of action required.
  5. Choose your words carefully and deliberately. People can get triggered by words like, “don’t, shouldn’t, wouldn’t.” Using phrases that provide a more neutral feeling like, “Have you considered…?” or “Have you thought about…?” will ease any fight or flight response.  Even if there is an issue, reframing it to focus on the improvement rather than the problem will help people to move forward with right action.

There are many solutions to improving a culture and training leadership on empathy.  If you have questions about Improving Culture or Empathetic Leadership, please feel free to contact me here.

How to Pick the Best Board Members

I used to wondered why companies with Board of Directors fall into trouble financially, whereby having to restructure or worse, file for bankruptcy.  Having sat on multiple boards over the last 10 years, I now know why.   If the board does not have the right members, it can become a feeding ground for disagreements and status quo, where nothing important get accomplished and it’s more about who is sitting where at board dinner than the companies best interest.

On a recent project, I was helping a company pick new board members. The company had gone through a merger some years earlier that proved to be difficult, and somehow the board ended up with four executive; two executives from one business and two from the other. Having four board members from each of the legacy companies caused major problems. In fact, they were stuck operating as two separate business units for almost seven years when I met them, resulting in 0% of the synergies they expected to capture.

It was impossible for them to agree on strategy, or anything for that matter. They would end up in the weeds of the operations going around and around an issue until one side gave up or they tabled it for the next meeting. They even hired an outside “consultant” to sit on the board so they could have an odd number to split the vote, but nothing was getting accomplished and they were frustrated. Even more frustrated were the employees.

When I was hired by the CEO, he was adamant that this BOD problem could not be solved, and could I please help to capture some of the synergies and increase productivity and margin. Never shying away from a challenge, I said I would help and I knew how to fix the board of director problem.

I conducted interviews with the top 20 leaders in the organization and an employee survey and found that not only did they find zero value in the current board of directions, they did not trust the direction they were guiding the company.

This wreaked havoc on the culture and productivity of the employees. There was confusion on who was responsible for what parts of operations, who had the right to make strategy and product decisions and major communication problems.  In fact, one leader from the legacy company forbid anyone from their business unit to communicate with the other legacy company employees without going through them first. Imagine the inefficiency of that!

I was able to convince all five board members to let me run a process called a Strategic Architecture.  It involves a group of top talent employees from every level as well as the leadership to work through a process I’ve developed (and used successfully over 10 yrs), to redesign the organization starting with the board of directors.

The result was a board with seven members, four external and three internal. Along with the number of board members was the criteria for selecting them.

Choosing the right board of director members is crucial to a companies’ success, especially for smaller to mid- sized companies. While there are firms that can help you find board members, I don’t believe they add the value a good network provides. Maybe for the large corporations it’s important to go to a firm, but I’ve worked with many companies who did not, and through networking, were able to find the perfect board members.

What exactly is a board member and what’s their responsibility?

A Board member is an elected participant on the board of directors of a corporation or the supervisory committee of an organization. The board of directors of a company is defined as the governing body that is tasked with decisions pertaining to where the company is heading. The key decisions for the business body come from the consensus of the Board.

Board of director members are elected by the shareholders of the company and are responsible to set the company vision and appoint the chief officers to carry out that vision. Each member of the board participates in board meetings wherein the discussions of performance, critical roadblocks, turnarounds, and future strategy take place. In other words, they are responsible for the global direction of the company.

With this much power, the wrong board member can throw a monkey wrench into a productive meeting.  So, how do you ensure you are picking the right ones?

I have a formula I use, but to make it simple I’ll lay out 3 common things I look for:

Operational experience

The first thing to assess is their understanding of business operations to see if they can understand your business model and challenges. If a prospective board member has only been a consultant or academic and never been inside a company working, it’s hard for them to understand how the work gets done. This will give them a disadvantage when a new strategy is being reviewed and the question of resourcing, scalability, and distribution come up…and they ALWAYS do!

I recommend to my clients to find someone who has at least 10+ years of operational experience. If you can find someone within your industry, even better. Having someone that understands the market and its customers is an incredible asset when it comes to making decisions on strategy.

Filling the Gaps

The second step in my formula is to use a tool to assess the prospective board member’s skills and competencies. Then I do an analysis of the strategy versus their skills to see if they will add value to the company.

What I’m looking for is who fills the gaps from what’s missing from our leadership team. If I have a weak area in Finance or Technology, then I want a board member with a strong finance or IT background, so maybe a CFO or CTO.  Or maybe I need help doing business internationally. Then I’d look at people who have experience working globally.  The key is to get board members who are strong in the areas you are weak, rather than where you are strong already.


The final and third step is to assess personalities. There are lots of tools out there, Myers Briggs and DISC are two well-known ones, but I like to use the Keirsey Temperament Sorter.  It helps that I’m certified in it and can do a deep dive into the results. But what this does is allow you to uncover how the prospective board member will communicate and behave in the board room. 

I have worked for companies where there were shouting matches in the board room because one person disagreed and was triggered.  Most candidates for board seats are in or have been in leadership roles, where they may have been the boss and they get the final decision. In a board environment, it’s not about getting it your way and it can be hard to swallow when an idea you don’t support gets voted through or visa-versa.

The other reason I like a personality test is because I can see how their mind works. It’s pretty well known that we all have different ways of thinking. Some are analytical, some are visionary and strategic, and some are creative. A good board has a mixture of all of these.  Having all analytical people on the board could turn a meeting into analysis paralysis. All strategy could be only about vision and nothing concrete. Having a well -rounded board is like having a well-rounded diet…it’s good for the company.

While this seems simple, it’s actually harder than you think. This is one piece of a much bigger pie. It’s a process and takes months and months to do it correctly, but it’s a good start and certainly will have you on the right track to picking the best board members.

The Best Tool to Assess Your Culture

Why is it so important to have a good corporate culture?

The list is endless, but let’s get right to the point; a good corporate culture means a better bottom line. It’s about business, plain and simple.

If the corporate culture is good, the employees are more productive, they are more loyal, you have less turnover, yada, yada, yada…you get the point.

And most companies know this and spend LOTS of time and money on assessing and tracking their culture through employee engagement surveys.  Some companies hire expensive consulting firms to administer these surveys and then slice and dice the data so they can determine what’s working and what’s not.

Smaller companies with limited budgets put it all in HR’s hands and hope they know what they’re doing, and in most cases they don’t.

A corporate culture starts at the top and should be owned by the CEO and their leadership, not HR, not a committee or a task group.  And it’s a HUGE change management project that never ends as long as the company is in business.

When I go into a company to identify areas of improvement, the very first thing I do is ask for any data around employee engagement.  This is just the tip of the iceberg and doesn’t always provide the information that I know is below the surface. And a very simple tool will tell you where to look deeper.

If you’re asking “what is it?” here’s your answer.

It’s a Pulse Survey.

It is a 3-question survey sent out quarterly and owned by the CEO.

It’s simple to administer through any survey tool, (Survey Monkey is still a good one) and any person at any level of the company can fill it out.

The reason it’s so effective is because most people don’t mind filling out a short survey versus the long engagement surveys and it focuses on the way you do business versus how the employees feel and provides valuable insight into where you need to improve.

Let’s look at the questions in detail. Of course, there is a scale, usually 1-5 for employees to rate these questions on and anything under a 4 is cause for concern.

Question #1: I feel good about the changes the company is making.

The response to this question provides feedback on how employees feel about the DECISION MAKING of leadership.

What does this questions tell us?

  1. How agile the company. Companies who are agile make decisions faster and move to action faster, creating a quicker response to market and customer demands. This is a key differentiator in companies who grow and those that see minimal growth.
  2. It also informs on the autonomy people have within the company. The decision-making authority can make people feel frustrated if every decision needs to go to their manager’s manager or through some complex system of bureaucracy. This, in itself, is enough to make people want to leave their job. Giving people the change to apply critical thinking and decision making helps them get and stay engaged.
  3. This is also a key indicator of a poor structure. In most cases it means the company has too many layers.  Imagine a decision having to go through 6 or 7 people to get approved. The ideal number of layers is 4-6 depending on revenue.  The benchmark for a company with $1B in revenue is 6, so use that as a baseline.
  4. Finally, this tells us if people believe in the strategy the company is following is correct. If employees aren’t aligned with the strategy, then any decision following that strategy will not be accepted.

Question #2: I am confident that we are heading in the right direction.

The response to this question provides feedback on how the employees feel leadership is COMMUNICATING.

What does this question tell us?

  1. To start, it tells us how well the managers and leaders of the company are communicating. In most cases when you see low scores in a function, it’s because the manager doesn’t have a regular cadence to delivering information. Whether a staff meeting, an email, a video or face to face meetings, communicating information keeps people “in the know” which results in them being engaged. There is nothing worse than not know what is going on, and this is all too common in companies who withhold information and keep it only for the top managers and leaders in the company.
  2. It tells us how bought into the strategy the employees are. The CEO needs to have regular events to update the employees on the “big” picture, the direction the company is heading and ultimately tie in how the employees are all part of making that big picture happen. Creating the awareness that it’s them, the employees, who deliver the strategy by executing every day is a powerful message to hear and creates loyalty beyond the paycheck.

Question #3: The changes in the organization help me work smarter instead of harder.

The response to this questions provides feedback on how the employees feel the changes the companies is making relative to helping their PRODUCTIVITY.

What does this question tell us?

  1. It tells us how good the companies systems and processes The most frustrating thing for employees is to be working and knowing there is a better way. Either through technology or a more streamlined process. You can’t have a good culture if your people are working inefficiently, it’s IMPOSSIBLE. Employees who feel that they work efficiently are more engaged and happier in their jobs. This not only leads to less turnover, but
  2. This question focuses on time to deliver to customer, and it’s at the heart of low profit margins and affects the bottom line. Imagine if you had a system that helped employees make products 2x faster, or see 30% more customers?  It doesn’t matter the task, what matters is, how quickly they are able to complete it, and how fast the company can deliver it to its customer.  Quicker turnaround means less cost means more profit means more money available for employee bonuses.
  3. A hidden benefit of this question is it tells you the companies capacity to grow. If you have inefficient processes and a lack of technology systems, you will have to add more and more headcount and resources to get the work done when you want to grow. Whether it’s adding new products, a new location, or just organic growth, the harder it is to get the work done, the less capacity employees must add to their plate. The best way to grow is to SELF FUND it through capacity building. Imagine you implement a system or process that helps an employee do their job in half the time. You’ve just created a 50% productivity gain. Do this across the company and imagine the amount of time saved that you can now use to focus on your growth.

As you can see, this very simple tool has a lot to offer and provides a wealth of information that most engagement surveys provide but in a less costly and complex format.  Measuring your corporate culture has never been so easy!

Try it out and let me know how you do. I’m here for any support you may need when implementing or assessing the results, so please feel free to contact me.

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