(This is a post primarily about the results of an experiment, but I did build a tool as part of it that you can use to gather behavioral feedback from former coworkers; you can go directly to WorkWithMeAgain.com to use it for free without reading about the journey or my data.)
In 2020, I started directly soliciting feedback from former colleagues in a one-question survey: would they seek (+2) or avoid (-2) working with me again? It was a deliberate attempt to use a behavioral measure to understand how different demographics experienced our time together in the workplace. The data was gathered via an anonymous form and always more than six months after working with me, to avoid a recency bias.
We spend more than a third of our life at work, often with other people. And the quality of those interactions are the single greatest predictor of our satisfaction with our work. Not money, not commute time or hours at the office, but who we spend our time with. That means that if we’re interested in making a better world, how we show up for other people is one of the single most important decisions we make.
The last time I collected this data in 2020, I discovered that while most people would seek out working with me again, white women had particularly polarized reactions to my behavior at work. While not statistically significant, both non-white and non-men coworkers had a lower desire to work with me again and their standard deviations was higher – while some truly enjoyed the experience, others found it actively aversive.
After reading through the qualitative feedback they left, I started making changes. And now, three years later, I can see the results of those changes: both non-white and non-men coworkers showed a 10% increase in their desire to work together.
Interestingly, there was also a slight improvement for coworkers that were either white or men; showing up better for underrepresented groups helped me show up better for everyone.
So the obvious question is: what changed?
One of the limitations of this simple survey is that I can’t say for sure; while people could leave me qualitative feedback, those comments are snapshots of momentary interactions rather than reflections on a longer relationship.
That said, looking at the comments in 2020 and in 2023, a few potential differences emerge. These are filtered through my personal experience, however, so should be taken with a grain of salt.
One trend that seems clear between the two sets of comments is how my role (and thus I) was perceived. Prior to 2020, the majority of the comments focus on my leadership and the notion of working for me, whereas the 2023 comments tend to center on my expertise and the idea of working with me. This is probably an inevitable shift that occurs somewhat because of tenure but is also a reflection point; am I my best self when I’m coaching more than managing? Should I seek out more coaching roles?
There is also a shift between direct judgment and framework establishment. Prior to 2020, many of the comments center on my ability to make executive decisions about what someone should or shouldn’t do – when those decisions were perceived as wrong, people were less likely to want to work with me again. The 2023 comments reflect a shift toward presenting frameworks by which decisions could be made, so that people felt more autonomy that aligned with their accountability.
There is another source of data that confirms this shift. In addition to the Work With Me Again survey, I have an anonymous form that people can use to give me feedback that appears in my email signature. Many of the comments post-2020 focus on my questioning and how working as a thought partner made people feel “inspired, not embarrassed’ when they didn’t have all the answers.
Part of this may also be colored by how I left my most recent role. When I resigned from frog/CapGemini because of their refusal to release diversity data, it is possible that it increased underrepresented people’s willingness to work with me again. How someone leaves a role can also who is willing to follow them forward and it highlights how important clear messaging is when switching jobs. Despite all the noise about radical candor and transparency in the workplace, the simple fact is that most people just leave without ever really being clear why. And that’s something we need to change, both at an individual and company level.
I’m happy to see that I was able to close the gap in the last three years, but it doesn’t mean I should stop. And hopefully neither will you. If you’re committed to doing the same kind of work, the tools I used are publicly available at WorkWithMeAgain.com. It will allow you to copy the Google Sheet that contains all the calculations, as well as instructions on how to launch the survey to your former coworkers. I am absolutely convinced that putting in the effort to gather meaningful behavioral feedback can be a key component in how we change our individual behaviors and thus the world.
Side Note: One of the things that is clear from the over 200 people that have taken the survey is that there are some people out there who feel deeply wronged by me. That’s potentially inevitable and part of being human, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the store: if an apology would help bring closure, I’m here.