The Virtue in a Blisteringly Bad Glassdoor Review


I’d been traveling on an East Coast, West Coast business trip last week and arrived home late Thursday, eager for a quiet, pre-Memorial Day Friday in the office. My first meeting was a one-on-one with a colleague to review a couple of items and riff on a few ideas.

During the meeting my colleague paused, and then asked: “Did you happen to see the latest review we received on Glassdoor?” I hadn’t. “You should take a look.”

I pulled up Glassdoor on my phone and quickly scanned the review. As I consumed it, the words made me pause, slow down, and read it again. And then again.

The language took me back in time — six years ago — when Turbine Labs had no employees. It was a simpler, more straightforward existence. “Solopreneur” companies are pure ideas and execution. The culture is a culture of one. If a solopreneur can’t live with the culture they’ve created for themselves…then it’s clearly time to get a “real” job.

Photo by  Headway  on  Unsplash

Photo by Headway on Unsplash

Companies with ideas and customer demands requiring more expertise and resources often make the massive administrative and cost jump…to hire their first employee. Going from zero to one is the most difficult. Going from one to two, four to eight, eight to sixteen, and so on, is somewhat more straightforward. At some point, as employees join, culture forms. Experiences form. Ideas form. Relationships form. Memories form.

So when a former employee writes a scathing review of their experience, their relationship,  our culture,  our ideas - the immediate reaction is visceral. What did we do wrong? Where did do wrong?

The easy way out would have been to think, “didn’t need them anyway,” or “I knew the day they started the fit wasn’t there,” or “everything in that review is lies.” But at the same time, I couldn’t help but think: who else here feels that way? Do they all feel that way? With as much work and investment as we’d put into building our culture (we’d doubled the size of our business in the last year), were those investments delivering returns? Where were we falling short?

It occurred to me that our employees and our customers expect the exact same thing when it comes to information: the truth. Delivered right between the eyes, without bias. Good or bad. Right now. So in the afternoon, I asked the entire team to pause their work and assemble in the conference room for an impromptu meeting.

I started by telling the team I was going to read, from top to bottom, a review posted on Glassdoor posted a day or so before, written by a former employee. I read the text verbatim:


The reactions varied greatly, but from the look on the faces around the room, the most predominant seemed to be, “why in the world is our CEO reading this terrible Glassdoor review out loud to the entire team?”

After reading the review out loud, I paused, took a breath, and said a few words about starting Turbine Labs. I told them that our people and our culture were more important to me than the technology we were developing. Because no great technology, and no great customer relationships, can be built without great people. But at the same time, I questioned if I had completely detached from that aspiration into a state of, quoting myself, “becoming completely full of shit.” And if I was, in fact, completely full of shit, the only way I stood any chance of getting out of that state was to have people I trust come clean and tell me face-to-face.

My next request — which no one in the room was exempt from answering — was to have each person point out one or more aspects of their job, our culture, their experience, our software, their relationship with their team, manager, me, etc. — anywhere where we fell short of what they expected or what they were promised.

The first person I turned to speak to was…uncomfortable. I reassured her that being bold, candid, and honest was essential to the exercise working. I didn’t want compliments or accolades. No sugar coating. Her response had to be something that frustrated/angered/annoyed her about her job, the software, our company, or me. Even better if it mapped to the negative Glassdoor review.

So she did.

I went on to the next person, and the next, and the next, listening to each of them describe their challenges working at a startup, their challenges working in a fast-paced digital newsroom environment, even their challenges working for a founder like me. After each person stated their concerns, they insisted on stating how things had improved from any given low point, or, as the business grew, how they felt empowered to resolve or improve the issue themselves.

It’s easy to write a scathing review of a job you once had. It’s harder to face your peers — and the founder — to describe real challenges, or what you’re downright fed up with, and then come to work the next day committed to being a part of the solution. That scathing Glassdoor review gave us the opportunity to check in with each other, to make sure each of us was being candid, open, and honest. It gave us the opportunity to ask each other who we are as a culture and come out the other side knowing we are much more than any single review. And at the same time, we were able to confirm with each other the importance of communication.

Culture is not an immediate byproduct of the people working at a company but rather the product of conscious work and effort. 
— Tony Hsieh, Delivering Happiness

Showing up to Turbine Labs, every day, with the ambition and mission of ensuring senior executives of large organizations have access to the most accurate, unbiased intelligence is really, really hard. We’re trying to change behaviors that have been ingrained in organizational cultures for a very long time. Have we been successful yet? No. Have we made a foothold? Yes. Are we proud of our progress so far? Absolutely. Could we yet fail? Sure. Are we perfect? Absolutely not.

Some do not have the mindset –or are not interested in the challenge– to work towards something as bold as what Turbine Labs has set out to do. That’s fine. Some will go through their careers rarely facing a challenge head-on, instead keeping their heads down or hiding behind anonymity. That’s fine, too.

On the other hand, some are going to speak their minds — whether prompted to or not. Some are going to take ownership in their work and their actions. Some are going to take bold chances. But in order for anything to change, teams have to believe they can express themselves and have the fortitude and grit to improve the place they call work. Those that do are the ones who will change their trajectory… their careers…the world.

There’s virtue in the blisteringly bad Glassdoor review. I saw it first hand on a Friday afternoon before Memorial Day. And I left for the long weekend thankful for the opportunity it gave us.