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4 & ½ Rules for CEOs and HR Leaders Responding to a Poor Glassdoor Review

by Scott Burns
on May 15, 2017

When I founded a company in 2000, I never imagined that a day would come when I would be rated and critiqued in public as if I were a sandwich or a movie. But, thanks to the Internet and a company called, Glassdoor, that day came and it came with a vengeance. When I first saw our online reviews, I had many questions including:

Who wrote this?

Does anyone read these things?

How does Glassdoor know this person has really worked at our company?

And… Why didn’t anyone say how great the company is? People seem to really like it here.

Over time, I feel like I learned the answers…

There is no way to know for sure who wrote it.

Yes, people do read Glassdoor reviews… particularly when they are considering working at your company.

Glassdoor takes no steps that I know of to ensure the people actually worked at your company.

Finally, no one said how great the company was either because we didn’t encourage anyone to comment or because the company wasn’t as great as I thought it was.

I started that company in 2000 and ran it for 17 years. We grew it to 250 professionals and a tremendous exit for investors, employees, and shareholders. It was a great outcome. Along the way, we had a normal amount of staff changes and adjustments for growth company, so there were more than 100 former employees by the time I left.

And, while our early Glassdoor reviews were dominated by the relatively few disgruntled employees, over time, our reviews came to more fairly reflect reality (at least as I saw it).

Here is how we responded to poor Glassdoor reviews, and it worked well for us:

Rule 1: Ask the question… Is this criticism fair and true?

For example, an anonymous comment that your company let someone go without warning could be just a complaint from an employee who never heard, or accepted, the feedback that we offered. We learned, that criticism also provides an opportunity to review whether managers are truly forthcoming with employees about where they stand. Rather than reacting defensively, use this opportunity to reflect and make things better for your employees. Everyone that chooses to work at a company deserves to be treated respectfully even if they don’t work out on your team.

Rule 2: Redouble your efforts to connect and engage your employees

One of my best managers asked two questions of her team to see if they were engaged.

First, “What do you tell your friends and family about this company and your job?”

Second, “Who are your best friends at work?” If your employees feel proud of the company and have found “their people” at the company, good things happen.

You will get your best reviews (and results) out of employees who:

  • Feel connected within your organization
  • Can explain their work to others with pride
  • Feel valued and able to contribute their talents to the organization’s success, and
  • Are treated with respect

These employees will provide a strong counter-narrative to negative reviews.

Ask yourself what you are doing to help employees find others with similar interests, get the help and training they need, get visibility into the skills of others, and promote their own capabilities so they can find challenging projects. No matter your perceptions as a leader, it is almost certain you can do better. According to PWC, ⅓ of the workforce expects to be at a different job in the next 6 months and 67% of younger workers feel they do not have an opportunity to do what they do best at work.

According to PWC, ⅓ of the workforce expects to be at a different job in the next 6 months and 67% of younger workers feel they do not have an opportunity to do what they do best at work. 

Rule 3: Ask employees who are happy at your company to seek opportunities to tell their story

You shouldn’t sit employees down and beg them to write a 5 star review, but when a member of your team shows enthusiasm for your organization, remind them how much the world will value their input. I would tell people that I would rather the world hear how great a company we had built from the team vs. from me or our HR staff because it helped us recruit folks who fit the real culture not just how I saw it. Employees responded well to this and wrote some authentic and positive reviews.

Rule 4: Address truly troubling reviews directly

When I finished after 17 years, we had a 4.1 rating on Glassdoor (out of 5) with some insightful reviews and some that still make me cringe. Like others, we certainly had a couple of reviews get posted that were truly inaccurate and mean-spirited (you’ll have to take my word for it…). Other CEOs and VPs of HR have shared with me stories of accusations and comments that were out of left field possibly being posted by competitors or truly disgruntled former employees to embarrass the company.

Our approach would be to communicate with the team in an email, Slack (online messaging board for employees that I’ve written about previously), saying something to the effect of, “Some of you have noticed recent online reviews about working here that are negative and don’t reflect the culture we have built together. First, if you ever have concerns about the work environment here or our culture as a company, please bring them forward in whatever way you can internally so we can make improvements. Talk to your manager, HR, me, or just drop an anonymous note under the door if that’s what you’re comfortable with. Let us try to improve things before posting concerns publicly. Second, if you, like many of us, feel great about working here, consider telling that story in public forums.”

Taking this step helped get a more complete picture out in the world so we can recruit more great colleagues.

 GovDelivery, which I founded and led for 17 years, saw its Glassdoor reviews improve greatly over time following these rules

The bonus rule… what not to do.

Do not start a witch hunt.  You will probably want to figure out which former employee, current employee, or anonymous outsider posted a negative review.  This is a counterproductive instinct that will only put fuel on the negativity fire.

Try the other steps above and move on quickly to improving your workplace, ensuring employees feel connected and well-utilized, and to running a great company.

This is the third in a series of posts I’m sharing with my observations on what’s working and what’s not in how we unleash the potential of people and teams.

The first piece asked the question: Why do we market with precision and compose our teams with gut feel? The second explored 3 ways Slack Solves an Old Problem and Creates a New One

Whether you’re leading a team or working within an organization, please take this survey to help me understand your perspective. If you take the survey, I’ll share the results with you over the next couple of months so you can see what others think.

Still reading? Maybe this problem speaks to you. If you’re interested in working at a startup that addresses these issues, please reach out to me (especially if you’re in Minnesota). I am looking for talented technologists, client success professionals, product managers, and sales evangelists who are interested in helping organizations unleash the potential of people and teams.

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