Michael C. Bush: Learning To Be A Great Place To Work

Michael C. Bush, the CEO of Great Place to Work, presents research and experience that every superintendent can use to shape the culture of their district and schools.

By SchoolCEO Last Updated: August 09, 2023


What makes a great place to work? What attributes of a leader most influence how employees see and perceive their employers? What dials and levers can leaders use to create a better experience for everyone within? In this episode, Michael C. Bush, the CEO of Great Place to Work, presents research and experience that every superintendent can use to shape the culture of their district and schools.


One of the most explored topics at SchoolCEO magazine in our research, interviews, and perspectives is employee culture. Our original research on teacher satisfaction (February 2023) looked at 1,000s of teachers from more than 300 districts to find out what they want in a job, how they find opportunities, and more. And in 2019, we published the largest study of its kind on millennial teacher recruitment and retention in schools.

In this podcast, we speak to Great Place to Work CEO Michael C. Bush. Great Place to Work leads worldwide in employee satisfaction surveys and helping leaders improve the employee experience and workplace environment. Join this conversation and gain a new understanding about creating the best work environment for teachers and staff:

- A great place to work is defined by a high level of trust, respect, transparency, fairness, equity, and caring about one another.
- It is a place where people feel like they can work well as a team and achieve more together than individually.
- Pride in a great place to work is defined as care, where people feel cared about by those around them, and they reciprocate that care.
- Trust is the most crucial factor in creating a great place to work.
- Fairness is the key lever that impacts trust the most.
- Working for a leader who treats everyone with equal disrespect is better than a leader who treats different groups unfairly and unequally.
- And so much, more...


Intro Quote: Michael Bush (Guest): We are talking about being what we call a for all leader, which is a leader that's in the moment present involving others, trusting others, not trying to solve every problem on their own, relying on other people through trust. Somebody can make a mistake because you're gonna make them.

You just don't wanna be making the same mistake twice. We have to deal with this challenging situation, play the long game, educational institutions, see businesses can come and go out of business. We know that by running these companies, but in terms of the experience that we create, in terms of trust, it's the same.

Tyler Vawser (Host): I'm Tyler Vawser, part of the SchoolCEO team here at Apptegy. We publish original perspectives and research that help school leaders build a strong identity for their schools. Along the way, we have conversations with superintendents and other K-12 leaders, marketing experts, and more to help you brand and market your schools in a highly competitive environment.

Published quarterly in print and online, SchoolCEO is the only magazine focused on marketing in K-12 public education. And this is SchoolCEO Conversations: Marketing For School Leaders. SchoolCEO has done an enormous amount of research into teacher recruitment. 

How do you bring teachers to your door? How do you get their attention? And then how do you retain them? How do you keep them? And so today in this conversation, we invited Michael Bush, the CEO of Great Place To Work, a global research and analytics firm that produces the annual Fortune 100 Best Companies To Work For List, the World's Best Workplaces List, the Hundred Best Workplaces for Women List, and dozens of other distinguished workplace rankings around the world to talk to us about how to do that within schools.

And while his expertise is mostly in the private sector, he also works within education. What you'll hear is a conversation about how important it is to listen and to build trust. More important than benefits, more important than salary, we know that culture, leadership, trust, are at the top of teacher's lists, as well as everyone else.

Regardless of industry, people are looking for leaders that they can trust, that they can be heard, they can be listened to, and that really makes all the difference. I think you're going to get a lot out of this conversation. I really enjoyed speaking with Michael. One, you'll hear immediately how passionate he is about this, but how well he knows the topic.

And what's more is SchoolCEO always loves research-backed information, not just opinion. Michael speaks from a place of his research and his company's research, and they work with over 18,000 organizations across the world. Let's join the conversation.

Michael Bush, thank you so much for joining SchoolCEO Conversations. 

Michael Bush (Guest): Happy to be here, Tyler. 

Tyler Vawser (Host): I'm really excited to talk to you. My background is in marketing, but then I took a four year detour in the people business and focused really on HR and recruiting, and I really enjoyed it. We went from about 50 to about 350 people in that time.

And so personally, I'm excited to talk to you, but also excited to have you share your insights with our audience, which is primarily superintendents, communication directors, and human resources officers within the K 12 space. 

Michael Bush (Guest): Okay. Looking forward to it. People have these sayings.

Now every business is a tech business, and every business is a people business. In education, it's definitely a people business, and when you're in the people business, crazy things happen every day because you're dealing with people and the pressure, intentions, and opportunities related in that.

But I love the people business as well, and so happy to share whatever I can today. 

Tyler Vawser: Wonderful. You're the CEO of Great Place To Work, and I wonder if you can define for us how your team and how your company defines what a great place to work is. 

Michael Bush: For us, a great place to work is one where there is a high level of trust, which means there's respect, there's transparency, there's fairness, there's equity.

There are people who are caring about one another. People are feeling like they're working well as a team and that they're able to do more as a team that they could ever do on their own. There's a high sense of pride and pride as we define it is care. People feel like the people around them care about them, and they care about the people that are around them as well in a reciprocal way.

So those things that I just named, that's how we measure trust. Because without trust, there is no engagement, there is no happiness, there is no job satisfaction. It's all about trust. And we measure it with a survey,so six to 10 questions about each one of those things that I mentioned.

Tyler Vawser: Is there one of those that matters most that impacts trust in the biggest way?

Michael Bush: Yeah, fairness. Fairness matters. That's the one because we measure what erodes trust and what limits the ability to rebuild trust, and its fairness. We've done studies. This year we'll survey 18,000 organizations around the world in over 140 countries in every industry, including education. We know a lot about what's going on as working people and the people business work together and every other industry involved. But fairness is the one because you can have a workplace where, thinking of education, somebody will say the person I work for, I don't think they really care about me.

All right? And then we'll say, by asking you another 59 questions, is it a great place to work? Then we'll go, it is. Then you'll look at that data and that team or that area or that location and find out that they're working for somebody who really should not be leading people.

There are those people. They were outstanding individual performers, maybe experts, and they get elevated into people management because normally there's more compensation that comes along with it. But that person can really put a damper on trust and affect the experience of the people working for them.

And we're really curious when we see that because clearly this person doesn't listen. This person isn't very respectful and a bunch of things, but yet these people are saying it's a great place to work. When you double click, they're like, I love what I'm doing. I love teaching and I love the teachers here, so that will do it.

And then we’re like okay, but what about who you work for? And they'll be like, oh, he treats everybody with equal disrespect. So that's like the punchline. It's fairness that matters. What people don't like is a leader who treats one group of people one way and another group of people a different way—it's over.

Tyler Vawser: Interesting.

Michael Bush: There's no respect. There's no transparency. So, I'm glad you asked the question. That's the key lever, you know? Fairness.

Tyler Vawser: Yeah, I think that's really interesting, especially being equally disrespectful to everybody. That doesn't sound great. That's not something to aspire to, but interesting that's better, in a way, than someone that's being unfair and unequal to different groups.

Michael Bush: Definitely. 

Tyler Vawser: So my next question for you is, what do private sector companies and organizations know about building and sustaining a great place to work? What is that thing that they really understand and it's part of who they are, it’s part of their DNA, and the leaders, especially the leaders, of a great place to work, they really get it and they're practicing it.

Michael Bush: The thing that they get, Tyler, is that a lot of the experience of a working person is shaped by who they work for, which makes supervisors, middle managers, really, really, important, far more important than the top person, the superintendent, or the CEO because they don't work with them that much.

So that makes the organization's job doing to do all they can to help teach, guide, inform middle managers and supervisors. In the organization, different titles depending on the field that you're talking, those roles are really important.

Because generally speaking, 70% of the experience that a person has at work is shaped by who they work for and so they understand that. So therefore they put a lot of time into developing supervisors, mid-level managers, and leaders because they know that in order to have people who are really bringing themselves to work and committed to changing and improving, it has a lot to do with the person that they work for.

And so they know that. You'll find that they are working on their leaders. It doesn't matter what industry you pick, they're all working with their leaders on the same things. Number one, improving the listening skills of their leaders. That's number one, because without a good, a leader who's a good listener, then you're not gonna do well in the other areas of leadership.

Because the ultimate show of respect is listening. It's being engaged in a conversation with somebody where the other person gets the feeling that, wow, this person's really listening. It's so rare to be in a conversation like that that it stands out for people. And what a great listener does is they ask questions.

They're curious, which is a sign of humility. And by asking questions, they're demonstrating that they don't know everything and they're seeking and searching, and they think you might help. Ultimate show of respect. 

Not just because you're a superintendent, everybody listens to superintendents. The title shouldn't dial up your listening. It should be, there's another human being, and I'm going to dial it up every time I'm interacting with a human being because innovation comes from these experiences where somebody is feeling comfortable and safe and trusted, and therefore is willing to talk about things while you're both trying to figure things out.

They don't feel like they can say the wrong thing and therefore, it can get weaponized and can work against them. Again, trust is really important here. A person who develops this, the level of listening, which is basically they might start the conversation with a set point of view, I believe this, I believe that all teachers should be here at this time, I believe. Okay, but are you willing to, in a conversation, alter what you think? If you're not, don't have the conversation. This is the key, that behavior. Because now if a leader is working on those things, which I hope, every leader should be working on that now, because if you're not a great listener, you can't be empathetic.

If you're not a great listener, you can't be compassionate, which is when you learn something about somebody else feeling moved to do something for them. Iif you're not a great listener, you don't know how to give feedback in a manner that will move that person to alter the way they're behaving, which is in a compassionate, clear, candid way.

If you're not a great listener, you're not paying attention to the importance of how to welcome people. You don't talk to everybody in a way that lets them know that what they do in that classroom is it needs to be great. Because without that happening, the organization can't fulfill its purpose.

It cannot, without that teacher being great in that classroom, it will come up short every time. That's how important it is and how a leader talks to a person makes them feel that way or not and can modify behaviors, thanking people in specific and clear ways. And the combination of speaking and inspiring.

So those are the things that companies we work with around the world are always working on and then they move that to teammates that it's not all the leader's responsibility, everybody has a responsibility as to how they interact with each other that affects a place being a great place to work.

Because if you're doing those things and you ask somebody, is your job meaningful? People will say, my job is meaningful. 

Tyler Vawser: Interesting. 

Michael Bush: It leads to a whole barrage of things. I'm talking about situations like healthcare, where people are clearly underpaid for what they do. Teachers clearly are underpaid for what they do, but they still, some of them are still fired up to do it because they understand those things.

But how they're treated can make them push to be great. And how do you know? It's like someone who is passionate, mission-driven. They're fulfilling their personal mission in the classroom. But if nobody's supporting them in terms of helping them grow, letting them know that they matter, letting them know that they care, that person will get burned out.

Tyler Vawser: Yeah. 

Michael Bush: A person who's getting those other things, the burnout rate is far lower. 

Tyler Vawser: So around listening, 'cause I really, I love that train of thought and I think it's well known, right? That middle managers need to listen better and you even mentioned that Peter principle earlier, an individual contributor gets moved up until they're no longer successful and they're probably not successful 'cause they don't know how to listen or they don't know how to lead through empathy.

I'm curious for yourself, what's helped you as a CEO become a better listener and what were some of the things standing in the way? 

Michael Bush: You know, for me, Tyler, it was probably about 30 years ago when I met someone who, because I, everybody always said I was a really great listener and this guy's like you're not a great listener.

And I'm like, oh no, I'm a great listener. Everybody tells me I'm a great listener. He goes, yeah, but I've been experiencing you. You're not a great listener. And so I was like, okay. He broke it down for me and he’s like, you think, this is 30 years ago, and he was right. Listening is active, listening, like repeating the words that the person says to assure there's clarity.

And he's like that's not it. That's like better than nothing. And that's better than a lot of people do. You gotta empty your mind and be in a search for something new and be willing to open and alter your point of view. That was the game changer for me. That absolutely was the game changer for me. And what have I done over the last 30 years is practice that, talked about that.

I have a TED Talk. Millions of people have seen it, and it's about a bunch of things. It's only four minutes. But what people talk about is my explanation of listening. That's what they go, “Now, that was really, you know, the rest of it. I don't know what, but that was really good.”

That's why. I'm grateful to this person who taught me that 30 years ago andI continue to practice and continue to reflect on how I'm doing. And I expect my teams to do the same thing. And it's great that experience for people, working for them and my customers, if you talk to them, they'll be like, yeah, you know, Michael this, Michael that, great place to work, this or that.

I'll tell you where they've really been helpful, dialing up our listening. Because respect is embedded in there. And when you take a person, there's a show I'm watching now called The Bear, you know, loving it. You know, mainly because you see people who have had tough lives clearly, and another person cares about them and they transform. 

They transform. I know it happens. Our data says it happens. We know that. And it's all the power of listening, of somebody knowing, Hey, if I take this person and let 'em know, I think they can be a great chef. And I give them a new knife and send 'em the training, they're gonna change and it happens.

So that's what we can unlock. And by the way, everybody in The Bear, a lot of people listening maybe haven't seen it, but they're not making great money. The place isn't either. Okay. So that's the thing. That's the real thing, that it's not about that. I'm not saying money's not important.

Money matters a lot but it's a great demonstration of real people, especially in education and healthcare, who clearly aren't in it for that. They're in it because they’ve personally have been called to do it. They have a personal purpose and they deserve to be around leaders who are gonna respect them by listening and involve them in decisions that are gonna affect their work and so on.

Tyler Vawser: It's a really interesting TV show. I'm not finished with the first season, but I've started watching it and I think it's gonna become a masterclass for years to come on. Leadership and dynamics within an organization. There's just so much in it that is shocking and surprising. But if you've worked in, if you've ever worked anywhere, you immediately go, oh, it's like a Dilbert cartoon.

You go, I recognize this, I understand this. And you feel like you're there. So if you haven't started watching that, I would encourage people to take a look, especially if you're in leadership. One question I had for you about listening is organizations are busy, CEOs and superintendents are busy, and listening can sometimes feel like the opposite of efficiency because it takes more time than just getting to the point.

So how does an overwhelmed executive take the time to listen? What advice would you have for someone that goes, I wanna listen, but I just have too many things on my plate. What do I do? 

Michael Bush: Tyler, this is something you know I can talk about. So I don't know if there's a superintendent who works more hours than I do.

I run a global business. It's full on and it's seven days a week. And I'm called to do it and feel grateful to be able to do it, but I put in the time, that's a lot of time. And so I got 18,000 customers around the world, which means I'm out of the country every three weeks.

And so you put travel and things like that, you're putting in a lot of time. So the 16 hour day is pretty run of the mill. And so this is something I personally know something about. And you got a family too and all of those things. And so you're making a trade off because you're called to do it.

I feel like I'm called to do what I do. I'm gonna share some things that'll probably surprise people. Okay, but I don't know how you do this. These very demanding things. High pressure, high stress you know, for me, 67 languages and the world's very complicated. No more complicated than the US right now but very complicated.

And so my meditation game is on. 'cause if I'm not listening to myself, I'm not gonna listen to anyone. My exercise game is on. So if I'm not taking care of myself, I can't do much. That person running around from meeting to meeting, and not taking care of themselves, good luck. Good luck. Okay.

But you can change too. So you gotta work on those things, and you have to work on your own wellbeing or you don't have anything to give. Because when you work on your own wellbeing, you're gonna move at a different pace. You're gonna make every interaction more genuine.

Like we're doing right now, got a million things to do but you are in the moment. That's the key. You're in the moment. You know that what you're doing right now is what matters, not what you're, you can't be in the moment thinking about the next meeting. You gotta wait till you get to the next meeting.

You can't be in this moment, in this meeting, thinking about what Charlie said in the last meeting. You gotta let that go and stay in the moment or you're not doing anything in the moment. You're not moving anything along. And everybody around you knows it. You're just that overwhelmed person drinking Red Bull like a crazy person.

So that's not what we call for all leadership. That's what we call hit or miss leadership. We measure these things, that in this episode, they're great and then they fall off this, they're great, then they fall off. They're very inconsistent and the trust scores show it. So that's not what we're talking about.

We're talking about being what we call a for all leader which is a leader that's in the moment present, involving others, trusting others, not trying to solve, every problem on their own, relying on other people through trust. Somebody can make a mistake 'cause you're gonna make 'em, you just don't wanna be making the same mistake twice.

And talking about the purpose of the organization and how the situation in front of us, that's very challenging. We have to deal with this challenging situation, play the long game educational institutions, see businesses can come and go out of business. We know that by running these companies, so education or institutions, pretty much it's gonna be there like the next 50 years.

And it has been. So there's a different institutional architecture and in the behavior. There's also people, superintendents, like in the job, three to five, move to the next, move to the next. There's all these things that make the cultures different. But in terms of the experience that we create, in terms of trust, it's the same.

And so I would just, there's not an excuse that you're working 16 hours a day and that you're very busy. Those are reasons but they aren't really, you know, an excuse. And anybody who's leading like I'm doing, and you have a team and maybe you want this team to change or improve, which is normally you want to change 'em, and those kinds of things.

It's not going to happen. So you may swap 'em out or want, it's not gonna happen unless you change. That's the breakthrough. I got all the data in the world on this. Something has to give there. Now what often happens is the leader will swap out everybody on the team and then leave, which destroys the place.

So I'm just saying don't do that. Instead, change, make your expectations clear. Let people know that you're working on these things. Make it clear what you expect outta leadership, which is listening. If you expect that you need to be doing it, including say, in that last meeting, my listening game was zero.

We talk in our company about listening at a minus two minus one, zero plus one, or a plus two. I'm talking about plus two. But we will say, I was under pressure that happened. I'm sorry. I was like at a minus two and so I'm just letting you know that. And so I'm revisiting it. That's how you gain trust.

Tyler Vawser: Yeah. One of the quotes that I found from you in preparation for this recording was that people change when their leaders are capable of change and you just walked us through that and I found that really interesting because I think so often leaders imagine themselves as they need to put on a certain face or show that they've got it together, but that ability to show that you're growing and learning as well creates that same experience within your people, allowing them to change in the way that you're hoping that they will, right? That improvement that you're looking for. 

Michael Bush: Yeah. We talk a lot about great leaders and great leaders are humble, they're curious and they rely on others. They take the attitude that when you hire a person or start with a team, you gotta give everybody trust.

You don't wanna put people in a position to earn trust. You gotta give it to 'em. Now, they could lose it, but you gotta give it to 'em. You gotta employ that. All of our data makes this clear. You gotta trust them or don't hire 'em. If you create a culture that we don't trust you, until we decide we're gonna trust you, that employee's gonna have a tough six months.

And it's more than likely gonna be looking for another place to be. So this is what you have to do. And no matter you're in healthcare, high stakes there. They trust that person that that person's competent, able to do this work. They might lose trust and have to regain trust, but you have to start off on that basis or you're gonna have a lot of bureaucracy, a lot of fear, a lot of politics, and a lot of backstabbing.

Those aren't trust, outcomes or contributors to trust. Those are, that's something else that's creating a different kind of a institution. That's that's not what we mean. And we do work in education and there are people working in this way in education. So it's not like it's an industry that these things don't apply. There are people leading the way that we're describing. 

Tyler Vawser: So one of my questions for you around listening and change and all of that, when you're asking someone, or let's say we're having a conversation, you're listening to me and I'm giving you some feedback, some of that feedback you can probably run with, right?

Especially if it's one-on-one feedback. But if there's feedback that is more organizational or more complex, how do you listen well and show that you're listening to feedback, knowing that you probably are not going to be able to implement that feedback. And of course, in a large organization, there's conflicting feedback and you can't do all things for all people.

So how do you continue to build trust and credibility when you know that you're not going to be able to take a suggestion or listen to that person and put it into action? 

Michael Bush: If we ask a question in our survey, does management involve you in decisions that affect your work? And it can be an environment where management involves people, but what they learn from the people, they aren't able to implement that change.

If management explains that's a possibility before engaging the people, if management explains, thank you for your contributions and your work on this over the last three to six months, we're not able to do it. And let me explain why. Trust goes up, the scores go up. So it's when there's no feedback, scores go down.

When you don't tell people in advance that I might not be able to do anything, it's like great leaders should say here we can do anything. We can't do everything 'cause that's the reality. There are constraints, there are laws, there's union rules. There's all kinds of realities that make that true.

A leader who can talk about those things and not oversell, you know, that, oh, we're gonna be able to do this and then, oh no, the union won't. Okay? You gotta talk in the real world with people. And if you do that, trust will go up. Sometimes leaders think, oh, this is too complicated to talk about.

That's ridiculous 'cause the people who work for them have an elder. Parent health's not doing well, child not doing well, pet not doing well. Someone in the family on drug or alcohol abuse, they've got the whole bear situation going on in their family. That's the real world people can handle.

Super sophisticated, complex thing. So you need to treat them that way they can handle paradoxes, injustice this equity they can handle all those things 'cause they do every day. So an ultimate show of respect is being able to talk this way. So this is being transparent that I'm describing about what you're able to do and what you're not able to do. 

And you don't have to say, Congressman voted this way, and that's why you don't have to get into those details about things. But we just weren't able to sell that change at this time and gain trust. 

And what every leader needs to know is every email you write or don't every hello, you give or don't the tone. All those things, people around you, the trust meter is moving by the way you do things. They either trust you more, trust you the same, or trust you less. So you should be aware as you're moving the trust meters happening and know that and therefore say hello to everybody the same.

Don't have your voice pick up when vice president is here, or the mayor is here. You have a different hello for the mayor than you do for everybody else. People see those things and they go, okay, it doesn't gain trust. And so you just wanna be human all the way around and ask your team to be the same way.

Be as respectful with the mayor and congressman as you are with Charlie who works that broom. It's the same. We talk about it as creating a great place to work for all that. That's it. And so you have to be, and for all leaders treat those big title people the same as they treat somebody who is on the loading dock.

That's the key. And in the survey, the people say that she treats me the same, andI've only been here six weeks, as she treats Sally, who's been here 16 years. They say it in the survey that I'm a person who's non-binary. I'm treated the same by Joe as people who identify as male or female.

And they go on. That's why we call 'em for all leaders. And these are leaders, for some it's natural, for most it's work. It's not natural because often to get in those spots it takes other skills depending on what's going on. School district in tough shape, somebody who's done turnarounds before becomes more highly valued than somebody who builds great teams and so on.

The real world shows up. So for most, this is work. It's not easy, it's it's real work for me. It's real work. Just always working to improve upon it and and finding ways to get inspiration, which, when you're working these super long days under a tremendous amount of pressure then you need inspiration because inspiration means there's something you're hopeful about. 

And so you find, which is the purpose part and then people can feel it. That part is contagious. And being around people who are all trying to do the same thing, that's inspirational for everybody who's involved. 

Tyler Vawser: One follow-up question to that.

I think it would be great if we were all natural at that. The comment about some people just have to work at it, probably most have to work at it. I appreciate that note. But I guess one of my questions is it enough for your team and the people that work around you to notice that you're working at it?

Obviously there'll be failures and some mistakes along the way. Does that increase the trust as long as they know that you're trying, or is it working really hard to not let them know that you're trying and letting them think that you're natural at it?

Michael Bush: It's the thing that it's like one is 10 times better than the other.

It's that people know you're trying, talking about it. Every team should be able to sit around the table and, okay, leaders we're around the table. Let's go around the table and talk about what we're working on.

You know, that should be able to happen. That's really important. That's what great companies do. They know people are working on things and they might have a coach, they might have somebody from HR relying on something. They might be referred to a podcast, they might be referred to a book they might come together.

There's a lot of this going on in place, like a book. And we're all gonna read the book together. But we're super busy 'cause we're working 16 hours a day. So I'll take chapter one. You take chapter two, you take chapter three, you take chapter four. We're gonna do that and come together and talk to us 'cause none of us have time to read the whole book. 

That's a real world thing and a very useful approach on how to learn 'cause every leader better be learning, especially with AI being integrated into everything. You better be learning, you better have your head on a learning swivel, taking it all you can and letting people know you got a lot to learn.

I was on a panel with AI experts yesterday and was thoroughly convinced they don't know what they're talking about. I was like, wow, this is worse than I thought. Because they were flipping change because they don't, now they had to act like it. But there was one guy who wasn't acting like it. He's like look, I don't tell you.

I don't know how this is gonna go. Now this was the guy. And so I was like, whoa, this is really something. And so it calmed me down in a way because I'm like, okay, if they don't know what's happening, not much is gonna happen. Okay. But sooner or later things are gonna start happening, butI know I've got to learn and and make sure my team is learning and a team that learns together. 

That's a really powerful thing. And if you trust them, then you don't have to read chapter three 'cause this person did. And that book club is also team building on the things that are important, getting more done with less. 

That's like rule of the day divided country. If you're in the US the next 15 months are gonna be historic. So if you aren't operating in the real world, knowing these things, and it's affecting everybody in the community in different ways and there, therefore the leadership call is more demanding.

And that you're going to make mistakes and have unexpected repercussions. And then are we gonna find out who to blame when everybody did this thing? You know? And everybody did the pride event and thought it was a great idea until some people, this actually happened, some Nazi people with Nazi flags showed up at the Pride event.

And then this company wanted to blame the people who put together the Pride event. Okay? The pride event was consistently consistent with the purpose, the values of the organization. But now that the Nazis showed up and the press showed up, you see you shouldn't have done the Pride event.

Really? Okay. You gotta know the world we're in, these things are going to happen and that you're together. And when they happen, you're not calling somebody out, you're gonna get through. The good thing is in two weeks everybody will forget about it 'cause there'll be another crisis. But that's teamwork, that's leadership, that's humility.

And knowing that we're making decisions based on what we believe in, some of 'em aren't gonna work out. 

Tyler Vawser: Michael, when companies, organizations, schools, when they come to you to be certified as an official great place to work, are they struggling and they want to know how to get better? Are they succeeding and they just want to know for certain and put some metrics behind it?

I’m curious what that looks like. Was there a typical motivation for them coming to you? Or is it all over the map? 

Michael Bush: Yeah. No, it's mainly they feel like they're a great place to work and they want the recognition and for a group of companies they're right and that's awesome.

But when it doesn't, when the data says something different, that's a real moment. That's when they question our methodology and your methodology sucks and things like that. And we just calm 'em down. It's just like when a parent teacher conference and the teacher's letting you know, Hey, you know, I know you think he's a genius and you keep wearing it, giving them the genius t-shirts to wear to school every day.

Let me tell you, maybe your other kid is discipline the one. Oh, okay. So there’s the data says what it says. And so that's that most want recognition, because being a certified great place to work helps you attract talent. And right now that's really important and keep talent so that, that's it.

Now and then they get a score and most companies, I'll tell you Tyler, if the scores are really low, we don't see 'em again. So there's like a point where we're like, we're not gonna see 'em again 'cause they're just like, 'cause they don't have hope you know, but if they're like above a certain threshold and we talk to 'em, we're like, look, you got three years of work, but you can get there and we can tell you exactly what you need to do.

Tyler Vawser: Is there an example of a company or organization that thought they were doing pretty well? Scores came back and it was like beyond hope, like really came back in a bad way that turned things around and kept working at it. I'm curious, what was the, if there's an example like that fantastic, and if there is, what's the mindset of that leader and what do you think distinguished them from the others that gave up and said, we're not gonna do that again. 

Michael Bush: I've got a lot of examples like that. But I can't name the names 'cause everybody would know.

Tyler Vawser: Sure, yeah. You don't need to.

Michael Bush: You would know them, but I'll say one of the largest employers in the United States, I'll just leave it at that, was just sure they were a great place to work. They took the survey, which their employees have to answer 60 questions, 11 to 15 minutes usually on a mobile device.

And the results came back and they were not. So it was bad for everybody there because their CHRO was convinced they were gonna be. And so then this whole thing happened and we didn't see them again for about three years, so they didn't take it well. New CHRO comes in and is had worked with us before at another company.

So that leader said, look, we're about to do it again. I don't think the results are gonna be very good, I'm telling you right now, but we're gonna start and we're gonna do work and get a little better every year. That's exactly what happened. And because what happens is you can see you have a problem in the southeast, more so than in the northeast, and people are getting the same benefits.

So it's leadership. And by the way, when we reveal the data, we don't call out leaders, but you'll see in the southeast there's a low trust experience going on. It's just in any network of schools, most people know right now who the great leaders are from a team building trust building, and they know who the ones are, who probably aren't.

Now we share the data and the people in HR are never surprised. And you know what I'm talking about from the work you did going from 50 to 350, they aren't surprised at all. They're like because we anonymize the results. It's just like leader a 13, leader a 14. They're like, we know who a 13 is. We know exactly who a well, how would you know?

I'm not putting any, we know who a 13 is because they do, but they're just going along with this happening. And the key to improvement is they gotta grab a 13. Hey, 8, 13, you're great at all these things, merchandising all those things and people don't wanna work here a long time.

People are updating their LinkedIn profiles, it's not a great workplace. It's not about them, it's about the students. No, it's about them 'cause they affect the students and now we gotta get to work and we believe you can do it and you get to work. Hopefully they do it. Any leader who wants to get better can get better.

We got all the data in the world on that. This is not a nature thing. A leader wants to get better, but a lot of leaders don't wanna get better a lot. Then the organization has to do something. When the organization has the guts to do something, then you do the next survey. Trust is through the roof.

Automatically one person can do a ton of damage. One person, you get that person out, you know, management has lost some credibility 'cause everybody's like it took you seven years. You knew this guy was a problem. So there's all of that to be rebuilt, but this is the real world. But when it happens, the place blossoms.

No change in comp, no change in benefits. That's it. So this is what happens in our work around the world. There's sometimes something in the benefits, that's really, and if everybody has to say benefits, that's not an issue. Some organizations, these people have these benefits, these people have these benefits, these people, okay? Now that is something where that's a problem. 

Tyler Vawser: Yeah, that's not gonna go well.

Michael Bush: That one's not gonna go well. But when you've got uniform benefits and that are accessible to everyone and you're working to make that more and more true, and you have to always continuously do that's not the issue.

But leaders, managers, supervisors are definitely the issue. And if they work hard, so this story, I'm telling you now, huge employer, you know, is now a certified great place to work. 

Tyler Vawser: Yeah. That's fantastic. A few more questions before we wrap up. So one of my questions for you is the best, like you take the companies that are the top right, they've been performing year after year, they do really well, how do they handle internal communication and messaging? 

This is something I think is, in the private sector, it's been growing for some time and even in schools, we're starting to see this, which is not just external communication, but how do we message to our own employees, how do we have better internal communication?

What are those great workplaces doing really well around internal messaging and communication? 

Michael Bush: Yeah, so they have found a way in social media that has helped here to no longer strive for perfection. That's what they've done. 'cause five years ago, certainly 10 years ago, you got the message that you want to communicate by the time you put it out and it's pristine and lawyers and everybody's looked at it.

It's not the message anymore. It's summer now and you had a fall message, so that they have learned. Social media has taught people, the world's actually pretty forgiving and keeps changing. So don't be perfect. You gotta find a way to do your internal comms that's really lean and efficient without a lot of checkpoints.

And if you've got a lot of checkpoints, you gotta change what you're communicating. So there's a lot of checkpoints. Don't communicate that stuff. You gotta find other things. So what matters to people is hearing from the top. And as informal as that can be, the better. And it's like a minute at most top end, four minutes, no more than that.

One minute and seventeen seconds is ideal. But four minutes can work. Now that leader has to do some work there. Always starting with the purpose of the organization and what the organization's here to do for people, young people and so on. Always starting there. Something about the values, how we treat one another.

Always starting there. This is like a broken record 'cause it needs to be said again. And then what's going on. That's really important. And and also some things that aren't going so well and don't over promise here. It's if you've got a problem area and you know it, you can say, I wish we could resolve this in the next 30 days.

It's gonna take us 12 to 18 months. I wish it was different, but that's it. This is building trust. And the four minute piece from a leader on a monthly basis goes a long way. And then having other contributors from the community. 

Tyler Vawser: Yeah, I was gonna say four minutes seems really short, but I guess it depends on the frequency of those.

Michael Bush: Yeah. You got four minutes, you gotta do it once. If you're doing it once a quarter, four minutes won't get it done. But that and what some organizations are like, oh golly, we can't do that once a month. What you're thinking of doing is not what we're recommending. You gotta lean it out.

Nobody wants to sit and watch something, they won't do it. They aren't gonna sit and consume it, so don't put it together. This has to be something that people can consume in less than 10 minutes. Video helps an article from this, on that topic, an article from this person on that topic article from this person on that topic.

The opinions voiced by this person are not necessarily those of the district. Disclaimer, so you can get rid of the, somebody's talking about you know, something that's important around the effective AI on teaching, so we're gonna have somebody do that every month from now, probably the next five years.

Okay. What else? Safety. We're gonna have somebody do that. Orienting new employees. We're gonna have somebody, the pieces that need to be in this thing. And then there's a theme to the thing based on what's going on. And then you're just hoping from the top to hear this message, informally done, like we're sitting, doing right now, not a big production.

And people get used to it. They consume it more. People don't like productions and because they're like, this is some sterile whatever, I'm not reading it 'cause this is like some legal PR, whatever, that's not interesting. They want things that have a little variation in them that indicate the real world.

And this is what's happening. And so people are doing these things, releasing 'em on Microsoft teams, releasing 'em on Slack, newsletter type format. Getting 'em to the people watching open rates to see are people consuming it. And you should be looking at and find out what they're consuming.

They start that video, are they completing it? You gotta be watching those things and just continuously, after about a year, you'll get it right. 

Tyler Vawser: Yeah, that's really interesting. In the last six months, I've heard more communication directors at K-12 schools talk about internal newsletters than ever before.

It's very much something that newsletters have been a thing forever, but now it's how do we message our staff? How do we message everyone that's within the organization to make sure that they know what our priorities are? And in our own research at SchoolCEO, we found that superintendents, they know the priorities, they know the brand.

They're thinking about that in every meeting. The teachers, they might get trained once a year and it's five minutes out of a two day session of learning. And they're just gonna forget that. So I like the idea of higher frequency, but actually shorter bites or smaller bites so to speak.

Michael Bush: Yeah. And get more people to contribute. The teachers would love to contribute.

Tyler Vawser: Yeah, it's really interesting. Just as we close here, what advice would you give a new leader, so in this case, a new superintendent, they've just started the school year's about to be upon them, how do they start off on the right foot to begin building trust?

Michael Bush: I think that they need some, if they're new, they need some, we call 'em new hire buddies. Super important. It is the global best practice. And so you wanna connect them with some people that are gonna be their new hire buddy for six months. And then there'll be one for somebody else and there's no one person. You gotta have new hire buddies because one person can help you with administrative issues and how to take care of administrative issues as they come up.

Another person can help you with building constructive relationships with the parents, the students. So you wanna pick, like for us, we have four new hire buddies for every employee who joins us for six months. 

Tyler Vawser: Are you saying that applies to the executive as well?

Michael Bush: Whoever comes in that's new, they're gonna do better with a buddy who, whoever it is, they're gonna do better. Like with the HR system, how to, oh, okay, I can help you there. And here's what I did. It's if you've got a new,I'll call it executive, find the other newest executive, that person will help them 10 x compared to somebody else.

New hire buddies are great new hire buddies. It's that group cohort is better than somebody who's been there 10 years being a new hire buddy. They have no idea what it's like to be a new hire. Okay. Interesting. They have forgotten, erased it. So you build this cohort of people like somebody who oh by the way, let me help you with your first parent teacher, conferences for the first round.

I remember when I was new 'cause I did it like we did it at the other school. That ain't how they do it here. Yeah. Interesting. They don't want any innovation here on this. So the mood and music in the background, that's not how we do it here. All those things are critically important to onboarding because what almost every institution and company says they do and what they do are often quite different.

The website says one thing, the recruitment process says another. Then there's the real thing, and this new hire buddy can be like yeah, here's what transparency means here. I know that. Let me just let you know. 

Tyler Vawser: That's really interesting. So when I asked the question, I was thinking about what can the leader do to build trust with their people?

But you actually answered it in a better way, which is they need to make sure that a new individual is building trust with many buddies. And I think you actually answered the question far better than I expected. That's great. What about a leader that's been in their position for a while, let's say six years, people know them and they want to build more trust, they want to create a better place to work.

What are those steps that they can take at the beginning of a new school year or kind of  in the private sector, you know, it's Q1, it's January 2nd, that sort of thing. What are those steps that they ought to be taking, or how should they be thinking about that? 

Michael Bush: Yeah. I believe in surveying employees 'cause that's what we do. And I run my own survey every four months. It's open right now so I'm always getting feedback from my team, and so I rely on that to change. And because it's actually pretty hard for us to sit down and for me to say, Hey Tyler, how are things going?

That can be Tyler's okay, look I'm trying to buy this house. And so I think things are great, so it's hard that way. That's why we use anonymous surveys. It's not the only listening tool. It's using that with some other things. So I would recommend that we've got a piece of research that's available on our website called The Power of Purpose.

We kind of outline in there four, if you want to do some one-on-ones, the four questions to ask people, like your team, it's like, what do you wanna know about your team? You want to know if they feel like they're involved in decisions that affect their work. You want to know if they feel like their work has meaning.

You want to know if they want to work here a long time. You want to know if they feel like they have the resources needed to be successful. You want to know whether they feel like when there's a crisis or a tough problem. Their opinion matters and they're being relied on. And they want to know that they're cared for as a person, not an employee.

So if you're like, okay, I don't know, I'm really busy,I would sit down with somebody and ask those questions and I would write down their responses, and I would use this as my developmental plan with the person. I would come back to it periodically. Hey, when we talked last time, you said that you wanted to be involved.

Has anybody asked you about involvement in the new safety program or about your thoughts on this, or how we deal with a student who's coming out in our classroom? So you're using it because when you write those things down from the first meeting, if you don't come back to that, you're not listening.

It seemed like you were, but you weren't listening because if you're listening with empathy and compassion, you're taking action. And so what I would want is my whole team to know I'm listening and I'm taking action. You know that for this person, I learned this and I did that for this person. I learned this and I did that for this person.

I learned this and I did that. So you're doing that. That's how you build trust. And they all know that those things happened. You did what you could. And when you couldn't, you let 'em know. That, that's what I would do. That's how great teams are built, by the team, knowing how much you care about each one of 'em.

And part of what I always want to know, like my team runs a global business, but I'm like, I know what each of 'em is hoping for over the next couple of years. Personally and professionally, I do know about their families because I can't lead them without knowing things and because I want to help them succeed.

I want to help their families succeed. I care about their physical health. They would allI talk about meditation every Monday. What are you doing? Apps are free now. Okay so what are you doing in that regard? And then we'll do a thing where, we'll have an all company meeting every other Monday.

It's complicated 'cause we got the whole world, but we do it. And sometimes I'll trick 'em, it's like an hour and a half, I'll make it an hour and 15. And I'm like, we're ending now. So you can all go walk. We don't have time. No, you do 'cause you were gonna sit here another 15 minutes. So get out, walk around your yard, wherever it is, condo, get out.

And we do it and everybody loves it ‘cause I hijacked the time to get that exercise going. So that's me letting 'em know I care about them, doing that. So talking about, it's one thing. So there's just these little things and you can always find ways to do 'em and they don't cost any money.

Meditation apps are free. The 15 minute walk is free. And people can find ways for a 15 minute walk. Nobody's that busy. Barack used to do it. I spent some time at the White House. He would get out, sometimes he would do it to hide a cigarette, but he would do it.

And he was running the free world pretty much, and he always found a way to do these things. I learned a lot by watching somebody really busy stay fit, do meditation and exercise, somebody who was really busy. So I'm like, if he can do it, I think I can do it. 

Tyler Vawser: Well your comment earlier about you had to learn how to listen to yourself first, right?

If you can't hear yourself think you're not gonna be able to hear the ideas or thoughts or feedback from someone else. I think that's a really good perspective. And for someone that hasn't done meditation, or for someone that goes, ah, I don't know if that's for me. I think that there's a lesson there, right?

That solitude, that ability to hear your own thoughts is critical or listening

Michael Bush: You could be through music, you know, you can find your way. But the purpose of the organization, if the purpose doesn't move you to want to change how you're doing things and question the way you're leading, then the purpose doesn't mean that much.

You can't pay somebody to meditate more. You can't pay someone to listen more. It doesn't work. It's purpose that's what makes a person change. And then it's how you're treated that can make a person change. Those are the things. It's not I wish there were other ways, but we have found in our research it's purpose.

It's somebody having, I got a grandson now a couple of years old. I'm eating different, exercising like crazy. You know, my sons are like, Hey, you didn't do that for us, but I got a different purpose now. I wasn't a bad pit father, but it changes you.

All of a sudden these things that happen in your life show you that when something really matters, you will modify. We're all like that. 

Tyler Vawser: For those that are listening, where should they go to learn more about the research that Great Place to Work is doing and what kind of resources do you have that are available to school leaders?

Michael Bush: So they can go to our website, www,greatplacetowork.com and we got all of our research up there. To download it, you probably have to put it in an email or whatever. My marketing machine is going to do what it does. You'll start getting harassed, but it's normally with more research.

You can follow me on LinkedIn, Michael C. Bush. That's where I put up a lot of our research. I just wrote an article on the state of affairs in America. And so I'm super popular. That's a cynical comment, but anyway, I put the stuff up there for free. So I think anybody who's leading people trying to create a better team we know a lot about those things and we share those things for free.

Tyler Vawser: Wonderful. Michael Bush, thank you so much for joining SchoolCEO.

Michael Bush: Thank you, Tyler.

Tyler Vawser: SchoolCEO Magazine publishes original research interviews and more in our quarterly magazine that's read by more than 15,000 school leaders. If you work in K-12 leadership administration, or in communications, we'd love to start mailing the magazine to you.

Go to schoolceo.com, click subscribe now, and check the box to receive the print edition of the magazine just like more than 3,500 districts across the US. SchoolCEO is powered by Apptegy. SchoolCEO Podcast is produced by the SchoolCEO team, and this episode was edited by Tanner Cox. You can follow SchoolCEO on Twitter and on LinkedIn.

And one more thing, can you do me a small favor? Can you share this episode with a colleague that would enjoy it or post your takeaways on social media and tag SchoolCEO when you do? Thanks for joining the conversation and take care until the next one.

About Michael C. Bush:

Michael C. Bush is CEO of Great Place To Work, the global research and analytics firm that produces the annual Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list, the World’s Best Workplaces list, the 100 Best Workplaces for Women list, and dozens of other distinguished workplace rankings around the world. Driven by a love of business and an unwavering commitment to fair and equitable treatment, Michael joined Great Place To Work as CEO in 2015, bringing 30 years of experience leading and growing organizations. This includes serving as CEO of Tetra Tech Communications, which he grew from $40 million to $300 million in revenue. Michael is a former member of President Obama’s White House Business Council and a founding board member of the private equity seed-fund, Fund Good Jobs, which invests in small inner-city businesses. Michael was a member of the Board of Directors at Workday, Inc. until September 2021 when Great Place To Work was acquired by UKG, Inc.