What’s Behind the Glassdoor CEO Rankings

Since its inception, the rankings have favored tech companies, consultancies and professional service firms. Manufacturers are represented, but are thin on the ground. Procter & Gamble’s David Taylor and Johnson & Johnson’s Alex Gorsky ranked 11th and 16th respectively among the top 50, but the top 10 were dominated by consultants, software and the usual social tech darlings of Silicon Valley: Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg came in 4th, LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner 5th, Google’s Sundar Pichai 7th, and Apple’s Tim Cook 8th. The Sausalito, CA firm says it uses a proprietary algorithm in conjunction with the unsolicited reviews provided by employees.

At the top of the 2016 ranking is a CEO no one has likely has ever heard of—Bob Bechek, the  worldwide managing director of Bain & Company, the Boston-based management consulting firm. A 30-year veteran of the firm who led a robotics company before joining Bain, Bechek took over its leadership in 2012. Current and former Bain employees who filled out reviews on Glassdoor’s site over the past year gave him an approval rating of 99%. (The approval rating is set by employees answering a simple question about whether they do or don’t approve of the CEO. A company’s CEO can only be considered for the list if it has at least 100 reviews and at least an overall 3.0 employee satisfaction score.)

During the eligibility time frame, more than 2 million company reviews were submitted by employees. When providing a company review, employees are asked to share their opinion on some of the best reasons to work for their employer (pros), any downsides (cons), and are encouraged to provide advice to management. Employees are also asked to rate several factors tied to their employment experience, including sentiment around their CEO’s leadership, in addition to rating their overall satisfaction with their employer, and workplace attributes like senior management, among others. Glassdoor asserts that it uses both technological and human methods to prevent any gaming of the list’s results.

“People gravitate to leaders who are transparent, visible and have an open-door policy.”

This is not to suggest that Bechek hasn’t made a difference during his long tenure at Bain. After serving as the co-head of Bain’s Global Telecom, Media and Technology practice, he led the firm’s northeast region prior to taking the company reins. Observers credit  his modesty, self-deprecating wit, and empathy and ability to lead by example for his ability in pushing the “Bainees” to success. Keep in mind that leading a professional service firm is a bit like herding cats. A consulting leader is elected into the role and faces numerous obstacles. Many well-meaning and highly capable leaders can operate in struggling firms, just as many weaker leaders can run a highly successful organization.

CEOs’ own favorites not on the list
Curiously, CEOs (current and former) who are widely admired by other CEOs, such as AT&T’s Randall Stephenson, Boeing’s Jim McNerney, Disney’s Bob Iger, or GE’s Jeff Immelt are nowhere to be found on Glassdoor’s rankings. The first three on this list are among Chief Executive’s 31 CEOs of the Year, with Randall Stephenson being the 2016 honoree. Obviously, employees look at leaders from a different perspective.

If CEOs want to improve their Glassdoor rankings, here are 3 helpful hints:

  • Review and update your company’s internal career development programs to ensure all employees are aware of the possibilities for learning and advancement.
  • Maximize your frequency of outreach to employees; this is especially critical for millennials.
  • Communicate. Communicate. And communicate again. Most CEOs—even those who think they communicate often—need to up the ante. People like to hear from the leader often.

What matters to most employees, according to Jessica Jaffe, Glassdoor’s community expert who oversees the rankings, is the professional development, personal training, strong team orientation and mentorship programs their companies provide. “People gravitate to leaders who are transparent, visible and have an open-door policy,” Jaffe said.  She points to Mark Zuckerberg’s weekly stand-up meetings as something that Facebook employees find very popular. Zuckerberg was the top CEO in the 2013 rankings. (LinkedIn’s Weiner was the top in 2014 and Google’s Larry Page ranked first in 2015.)

Although Walmart and Amazon received 21,000 and 10,000 employee reviews respectively, neither company’s CEO made the list. However, no fewer than four women CEOs made the top 50: In-N-Out Burger’s Lynsi Snyder (17th), Staffmark’s Lisa Francis (28th), Enterprise Holdings’ Pam Nicholson (31st), and Deloitte’s Cathy Engelberg (41st).

J.P. Donlon :J.P. Donlon is Editor Emeritus of Chief Executive magazine.