One Question Every Organization Needs to Ask

This post is written by Jeff Henderson.

Jeff is a leading voice on how to create and grow momentum for organizations and leaders. He has launched three thriving churches in Atlanta, Georgia, author of the business book, “Know What You’re FOR,” led Chick-fil-A’s National Marketing Strategy and coached thousands of communicators through his online coaching programs.

Last week, my wife Wendy and I went to a restaurant that only had a few customers. When we walked in, the hostess informed us the wait would be 35 minutes.

“We only have one server tonight,” she said.

Our Date Night met the Great Resignation.

As you’ve probably heard, millions are packing up their work belongings and moving on. The impact of this kind of turnover on a business is devastating.

Years ago, I saw how employee engagement and retention directly impacted the business health of Chick-fil-A restaurants. Part of my role when I worked there was helping Restaurant Operators build their businesses. As we looked at their restaurants, we began to notice a direct correlation between employee retention and momentum.

Employee engagement led to employee retention.

Employee retention led to greater momentum.

It was that simple, and that hard.

That was true years ago. It’s still true today.

The labor shortage isn’t exclusive to the restaurant industry, though. It’s pervasive and causing a lot of concern.

Nearly 4.3 million workers voluntarily quit their jobs in August, according to the U.S. Labor Department. That’s 3% of the workforce in just one month. It’s also the most in the two decades the government has been keeping track.

As a result, now more than ever, leaders are taking a hard, honest look at the culture within their organizations.

When they have the courage to do this (and it does take courage), they often discover a glaring reality:

They don’t have a strategy problem. They have a culture problem.

It’s not a head and hand issue. It’s a heart and soul issue.

Somewhere along the way, the organization lost its soul.

A key indicator of this is when quality, once-committed-to-the-mission, people start leaving.

Sure, turnover is always a reality. But when it starts to happen at a frequent rate the key issue isn’t strategy. It’s culture.

Something’s just not right.

When this starts to happen in an organization, leaders tend to double-down on strategy. It sounds something like:

“We’re going to try harder.”
“We’re announcing a new and improved strategy.”
“We’re going to start promoting the company more.”

While trying harder, introducing new strategies and increased advertising efforts aren’t bad, none of these address a key question that leaders often fail to ask when team members start walking out the door:

“What’s it FEEL like to work here?”

On the surface, this question seems like a touchy-feely, emotional, sappy question. It seems like the answers are hard to measure and activate. It’s far simpler, and less time-consuming, to launch a new strategy or give an inspiring speech than it is to ask this tough question and give it the time it needs.

And yet, the point isn’t giving this question the time it deserves.

The point is to give the people in the organization the time they deserve.

This happens when you have the courage to ask this question and listen to the answer. It’s also a test of integrity for leaders.

When quality people who were once committed to the organization start to leave, denial starts to rise. “It’s them, not us” can be the usual refrain from leaders.

To survive this labor shortage, thriving organizations will assume the opposite.

“It’s us not them, so let’s find out what it feels like to work here.”

It’s why Exit Interviews can provide helpful answers to this question.

Exit Interviews

The problem is that exit interviews are often a waste of time because very little happens as a result of the feedback. My hunch is that the information gleaned from these meetings rarely even finds its way to the leader or leadership team.

When exit interviews aren’t taken seriously, especially when quality people leave the company, it’s an indicator of a systemic culture issue.

When exit interviews aren’t processed thoroughly, it also reveals a dangerous threat simmering below the surface of the organization — pride. When leaders don’t feel the need to think through exit interviews, it’s often because of pride, defensiveness, and/or an unwillingness to embrace what’s really happening within the organization.

A key indicator of this is when the leader or leaders talk more about what’s outside the organization (results and strategies) than they do what’s inside the organization (culture.)

This isn’t a plea to disregard results and strategies. Far from it. Don’t forget, we began by talking about the direct connection between employee retention and the health of the organization.

Results and culture eventually travel together. As Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” And it greatly determines the health of the business.

When key people start leaving an organization, the first place to begin isn’t denial. The first place to begin is asking why.

It’s why we need to go back to the question: “What’s it feel like to work here?”

If people feel safe, they’ll bring out their best self.
If people feel heard, they’ll be quick to listen.
If people feel believed in, they’ll return the favor.

The bottom line is simply this: If people feel cared for, they’ll do more.

It’s why this question isn’t a nice gesture. It’s an urgent question because Resignation Nation is a real thing.

This isn’t a call to cater or crater to people.

It’s a call to genuinely care for people.

When an organization cares for the team, the team cares for the organization.

On the contrary, if the team doesn’t feel cared for, they’ll eventually start walking out the door.

All of which leads to a question that is the foundation of the one I’ve already given you. This question is one every leader needs to quietly, honestly ask themselves:

Do I genuinely care about the people I lead?

Every great organizational culture begins here.

A tell-tale sign of the answer is what happens when people leave. If the leader or leaders shrug their shoulders and take a “Next person up” mentality, it is quite revealing. The people there are just a means to an end.

Again, it’s easier to get lost in data, focus on the work, instead of honestly seeking what’s really happening within the culture of the organizations.

It’s why, honestly and thoroughly processing the question, “Do I genuinely care about the people I lead?” is one of the best gifts you can give your organization and the people you serve.

If the answer is yes, you’ll weather the challenges of the Great Resignation.

If the answer is no, you might just have found your answer to the question:

“What’s it feel like to work here?”

Have you asked this question? What did you learn?

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

One Question Every Organization Needs to Ask

15 Comments

  1. Daniel Decker on November 4, 2021 at 9:48 am

    Dang. Spot on. So good Jeff. Thank you for leading well and helping us all along the way (you too Carey).

  2. John on November 4, 2021 at 9:23 am

    Most People are quitting their jobs because their jobs are forcing them to wear masks for 8-hours a day or forcing them to get an experimental vaccine. I know many people who are either being illegally forced out or who are fed up and quitting….lets not sugar coat this and pretend it’s something it isn’t….people don’t like to work for companies (or attend churches) that are led by people who bow down to tyranny. People are drawn to strong leadership and will happily work for those companies and attend those churches.

    • Fred Gurule on November 4, 2021 at 10:07 am

      thank you for asking me to ask the hard question. what does it feel like to work here and attend here?

    • Ron Munro on November 4, 2021 at 10:31 am

      Oops. You forgot to site the sources for your claims. What study shows the reasons “most” people are quitting? In what jurisdictions are people being illegally forced to quit? Do those jurisdictions not have lawyers eagerly waiting to cash in on this travesty?

    • Brent Cletheroe on November 4, 2021 at 11:09 am

      🙌🏽 yes!

    • Brent Cletheroe on November 4, 2021 at 11:11 am

      Yes 🙌🏽 to johns comment about vax masks etc

    • Craig on November 4, 2021 at 2:24 pm

      As a COVID ICU survivor, the comment above shows that John is unwilling to make and live with the hard decisions of our day. I, too, resent masks. The care for our neighbor that Christ teaches is why I continue to wear one. It is only a person like John that will not care for subordinates or others around him who continues this debate. Change your perspective.

    • Mark on November 4, 2021 at 4:48 pm

      Joy,
      The vaccine now is licensed. It is no longer experimental.

    • Marlena Martin on November 10, 2021 at 6:56 am

      Great point.

  3. Brian Rice on November 4, 2021 at 9:12 am

    Two things.

    First, I agree with everything you said in your post. Well said.

    Second, and I know this is a limitation of any one post which needs to have a limited focus, it may suggest that the “organizational culture issue” is THE reason for the Great Resignation Problem. This would be the simple problem model. There is one reason for the problem. Solve/fix that problem with the solution of better organizational culture. Problem solved. But as you/we recognize, the Great Resignation is not a simple problem, not even a complex problem, but most likely a “Wicked Problem.” Wicked problems have multiple and changing casual factors, many which are elusive and hard to identify; and some which are larger societal trends that are quite beyond any particular organization. So addressing the legitimate and serious organizational culture failures, apart from navigating the bewildering complexity of our larger society’s cultural problems… will probably under-deliver the anticipated results.

    The Great Resignation has been going on for some time in all sectors of life. Quitting jobs is one of the recent manifestations. People are withdrawing en masse, from personal relationships, family systems, marriages, civic groups, social structures and systems essential for functioning. What are they withdrawing to? And what is that doing for them and the people they care about? Where do people develop a framework for responsibility, accountability? Who helps us today discern calling and vocation? At what points and with whose guidance do we wrestle with meaning and purpose, in light of a common and greater good? What is a good life? How do I flourish? Is personal flourishing the greatest good? Why should I help others flourish? And at what expense to my own will I consider doing so?

    And equally important – why should I work a less than meaningful job while paid a less than adequate salary? There are themes of equity and justice that make this Most Wicked.

    Add in to the mix, the emotional-mental health stresses, greatly intensified over the last two years. Robert Kegan’s book , In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life, (written in 1998!) suggests that we have not been adequately prepared for the stressors of our times. We are exhausted, depleted, anxious, grieving, lonely… critical about what is and cynical about change… experiencing low levels of faith, love, and hope…

    All this is why the Great Resignation is a Wicked Problem… and which requires the best of hearts and minds (like yours) envisioning and laboring for a better way. I hope to hear more of your guidance on these matters as well. May much grace and wisdom be lavished on you…

    Brian

    • Charles Areson on November 4, 2021 at 10:54 am

      Brian,

      I too agree with the article but agree the problem is bigger. I have to wonder if you are like me when you see something good you want to make it better, usually by adding more information. It drives some people (okay a lot of people crazy).
      This being said, when I read this article and your reply, I’m reminded that though the problem has many sides the only one that really matters is the one I can control. I may not be able to change other issues but how I affect the culture in my organization is something I can affect. Once each of us does what we can it is amazing what can take place. If we wait for others, nothing will ever be accomplished. I believe you and the article would agree, Let’s do our part.

  4. Rev Tom on November 4, 2021 at 8:06 am

    Mark, I regret to say you’re probably right about that is most organizations and businesses! It’s even more a shame when it’s a Christian church or ministry organization!

  5. Mark on November 4, 2021 at 6:37 am

    Certain people matter. Other people do not. Generally, this has to do with the rank and management of status of the person and if the person is “liked”. Telling management what is really occurring in an organisation, no matter how diplomatically it is said, does not result in anything good. Management does not want to hear it or be expected to act on it. Their management does not want to hear it at all. No one will tell you anything truthful if they fear doing so. Higher management does not ever ask what is occurring at the lower levels. They might have an annual survey, but that will be comprised of long-studied, generic questions that won’t gauge the real sentiment.

    • John on November 4, 2021 at 9:13 am

      Mark, I would agree to a point. There are some organizations that exist as you say. However, in my experience the presentation from the employee (me) matters and helps the people I report to, to hear.

      In my youth I thought I was a gift to every organization that I entered. I thought I had the answers to all their problems. In looking back, many times I was right. I had answers to problems they had. Not always, but many times. HOWEVER, I look back at how I approached the people who could make a difference and I hindered them from hearing me because I didn’t come with humility and a heart to help. I came wanting to be heard, and desiring the credit for being right.

      When I stopped trying to make a point, and decided to make a difference and learned to listen to people who could help me see my blindspots, I’ve been given the opportunities to make a difference in organizations.

      I still get this wrong from time to time, because my natural setting as an enneagram 8 is to bulldoze ahead, but when I stop, and realize what’s at stake, I remember lessons, approach differently and get the opportunity to be heard.

      I’m not saying that’s true of you, but it’s true of many people. Our society believes we “deserve” things. Facebook has taught us that everyone has an equal voice and “deserves” to be heard. It’s just not true.

      Your comment sounds like you’ve been burned. I hope this can be some salve for those burns.

Leave a Comment





This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.