A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jul 18, 2017

Who's Reading Employees' Online Leadership Reviews? CEOs

In a transparent, socially-driven environment, every opinion is data and every data point counts. JL

Vanessa Fuhrmans reports in the Wall Street Journal:

Sites such as Indeed.com, Vault.com, Kununu and Fairygodboss let people post anonymous appraisals of their employers and whether reviewers approve or disapprove of their CEOs. Chief executives are increasingly perusing their online reviews to find out what employees think of them—to evaluate policies and even to talk back.Leaders at other companies say they look at Glassdoor ratings of acquisition candidates.
Career websites such as Glassdoor have become regular reading for job seekers. Now chief executives are increasingly perusing their online reviews to find out what employees think of them—to evaluate policies and even to talk back.
A growing number of sites such as Indeed.com, Vault.com, Kununu and Fairygodboss let people post anonymous appraisals of their employers. A poster can comment on everything from pay and benefits to workplace likes and dislikes. Glassdoor is one of the most extensive sources of online employee feedback, displaying reviews of more than 700,000 companies and whether reviewers approve or disapprove of their CEOs.
The public-yet-personal critiques are prompting more company bosses to track and respond to reviews. In the process, they have come to treat them as a necessary evil or a useful management tool, and a performance measure akin to using stock prices to gauge investor confidence.
In the past three years, Spencer Rascoff, CEO of real-estate website Zillow Group Inc., Z 1.25% has responded to some 70 reviews on Glassdoor and has a 95% CEO approval score on the site. His company was co-founded by Rich Barton, the same entrepreneur who also helped start Glassdoor.
Like Mr. Rascoff, some of the most active CEOs on Glassdoor enjoy high ratings.
“Getting caught up on recent @Glassdoor employee reviews of @zillow,” he tweeted last fall, adding afterward: “Reviews were almost all good lately. But a few things we need to work on.”
Some CEOs use responses simply to show they are listening. When, for instance, a worker at Nagarro, a division of Germany-based information-technology company Allgeier SE, complained about undermining colleagues, Nagarro CEO Manas Fuloria replied: “Your experience is your reality and we must fix it. Do reach out.”
Daniel Chait, head of recruiting-technology firm Greenhouse Software Inc. gets an email alert every time someone posts a Glassdoor review of his company and has responded to nearly all 74 of them over the past few years. “Where people get into trouble is if they ignore it, or they try to use it as a way to win the argument” with a negative reviewer, says Mr. Chait, who has a 95% approval rating.
For some business leaders, that isn’t always easy.
“Gosh, I am sorry we have made our cafeteria so good and so inexpensive that people would rather stay here than go out. How evil of us,” wrote Overstock.com Inc.’s CEO, Patrick Byrne, in response to a reviewer this spring who complained that the online retailer’s cafeteria encouraged people not to leave work.
Meghan Tuohig, vice president of people care at Overstock, says Mr. Byrne—who has a 58% approval rating on Glassdoor—is one of a number of people at the company who receives an alert when someone posts a Glassdoor review about working there. The company responds to both positive and negative reviews, particularly when they are about specifics that “we can straighten out or investigate further,” she says.
Increasingly, outsiders are listening too. Zillow’s Mr. Rascoff and leaders at other companies say they also look at Glassdoor ratings of acquisition candidates. A leaked Salesforce presentation of potential targets last year included each company’s overall and CEO rating on Glassdoor.
“We have walked away from dozens of acquisitions that looked good on paper and made strategic sense” because of poor reviews, says Mr. Rascoff. “It really lets you look under the hood,” he says.
Some companies have been accused of being too involved in their Glassdoor feedback. After a string of scathing reviews for underwear startup Thinx LLC and its then-CEO and founder Miki Agrawal last winter, an anonymous employee alleged in a Glassdoor post that Ms. Agrawal ordered some employees to write positive reviews. Ms. Agrawal, who has since stepped down as Thinx CEO, denies she requested flattering feedback and only asked some employees “share their authentic experiences.”
She likens the Glassdoor process to restaurant reviews on Yelp , arguing that people with good experiences rarely post a review. “But when they have a bad experience they are the loudest,” she said in an email. “So sometimes reminding customers who love their favorite restaurant to share their authentic experiences is perfectly ok to do.”
Glassdoor declined to comment on the Thinx allegations. But it says all company reviews undergo a series of checks before appearing online to guard against abuse and to verify they are, indeed, from a current or former employee. A handful of times, the website has received emails from workers saying their employers coerced or incentivized them to write positive reviews, says Glassdoor spokesman Scott Dobroski. If an investigation finds that is the case, he says, the review is removed.
Employers can’t alter or remove bad reviews, though in some cases Glassdoor says it will disallow or remove reviews if they reveal confidential business information or otherwise violate its guidelines.
Like a number of employers, Mr. Chait says Greenhouse invites employees to write reviews, while making clear it is optional. Occasionally the critiques have led to changes, such as when some reviewers complained a take-home test that Greenhouse gave job seekers was too arduous. This year, he says, the firm tweaked how it presented the test, stressing that candidates shouldn’t spend more than a few hours on it.
“I need that negative feedback,” Mr. Chait says of some reviews. “As a CEO, my life is full of people saying nice things to me.”


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