President Barack Obama has a lot in common with every day entrepreneurs. Each is looking to support their employees/constituents as effectively as possible, and each can fail spectacularly once in a while, resulting in a sudden drop in popularity.
Obama is experiencing an especially bad month. This week, a CNN poll reported his lowest approval ratings in more than a year--down 8 points to 45 percent thanks to scandals involving the NSA, the IRS and the Benghazi attacks. This drop is resulting in unending news coverage and hours of Congressional hearings.
While smaller in scale, entrepreneurs can deal with similar drops in internal popularity. Here are a few tips to for how to deal with situations that bring back memories of those alone-at-the-cafeteria-table grade school days.
Evaluate the situation
Reasons for in-office popularity changes can run the gamut from mild to severe. Mild: An employee is having a bad day and cancels on a one-on-one lunch with you. No biggie. Severe: Your employee retention rates are plummeting and you are spending more money than ever attracting and training new talent. The latter should be addressed immediately. Not sure why your employees are so upset? Try one (or all) of the following.
Talk to your internal influencers
Schedule individual meetings with the influencers in your company. These are the people who are friends with everyone, who socialize regularly with colleagues and who will probably know the root of the problem.
Send out an anonymous survey
Get a read on the morale of your company with an anonymous survey. Use a program like Survey Monkey and send it out over email with a response deadline. Ask pointed questions about specific initiatives and personal feelings toward working at your company. Ask each respondent to list three things they wish could be improved at the office.
Schedule a town hall meeting
Obama and Governor Mitt Romney sat through countless town hall meetings during the 2012 presidential election. These forums were effective at allowing citizens to freely ask questions and challenge the philosophies of each candidate.
Entrepreneurs are smart to set up the same type of forum. Introduce the idea to your company as a chance for everyone to air grievances and voice questions without judgment. Make sure you have a moderator present (assign a trusted C-level exec or hire an outside consultant) to field questions and comments.
Check your emotions at the door the day of the town hall meeting. Take each comment in stride (even if you strongly disagree), and assign an employee to take notes (or record the session) so you can reference the event at a later date.
Move forward with empathy, transparency and confidence
Employees want to be heard, they want to know what is going on (including negative news) and they want to be propelled by a confident leader. Give them all these things. Take feedback from conversations with your internal influencers, surveys or town hall meetings (maybe you did all three, which is great), evaluate concerns most important to your bottom line and the happiness of your employees and start implementing.
Most importantly, be transparent. Employee frustration often stems from a lack of understanding around decision-making processes. Offer more information on this front; trust your employees to keep it in confidence and empower them to speak up with questions. Watch your popularity grow in no time.