Catherine Mattice, founder & CEO, Civility PartnersCatherine Mattice, founder & CEO
Organizations that run employee surveys often have difficulty determining the next steps to create and execute an action plan. Leadership may not know exactly what to do with the data, or they may not have time to make the profound changes needed to affect employee perceptions. The survey questions themselves may make creating an action plan difficult due to generic in-actionable questions or lack of trust from the workforce, reflected in low participation or lack of honesty in responses. The solution? A change in approach. Civility Partners has developed its methodology over the course of more than a decade to create systemic solutions to address the problems arising from negative workplace behaviors. In an exclusive interview with Manage HR, founder and CEO of Civility Partners, Catherine Mattice, sheds light on the challenges in the HR Assessments landscape and the importance of asking the right questions to employees. An excerpt from the interview:

What is the process that Civility Partners follows to develop and deliver systemic solutions for negative workplace behaviors?

Our process is to assess and benchmark the organization’s culture, explore solutions to solve problems found in the results of that assessment, partner with the organization in implementing action, and then re-assess the culture after 12-18 months of partnership.

So, we start with a climate assessment that includes a survey and interviews with a random sample from the workforce. While our surveys are built from a template, every organization receives a tailored version. A survey for clients who are reactive in addressing a culture that’s gotten out of hand, for example, is going to look different than the survey for clients who can’t understand why they have high turnover.

Once we have the survey data, we make recommendations to the leadership team and help the organization implement them through an “action team” made up of people from all levels/ departments/diverse backgrounds. So the change is coming from the people who live them out in their daily lives, not the leadership team.

What is your process for climate assessments?

First, we interview the leadership team to discover what they want to know and the challenges they’ve identified. We then proceed to tailor the survey, sometimes creating custom questions. We’re unique in that we are culture consultants, not survey vendors, so we approach designing surveys and assessments with actions and solutions in mind. This means we take all the qualitative data from our interviews and open-ended survey questions and move it into themes. Now the data becomes digestible and actionable through the themes we find. As consultants, our leadership report presents a long list of recommendations to address the problems found in the survey, and often our clients invite us to help them implement the changes.

What are the common themes you find in employee surveys?

A major one is the employee distrust of the leadership team. Usually, the leaders recognize that they’ve lost trust based on their interactions and observations within the workspace, and that’s why they’ve come to us. We need to address that distrust from the beginning, so rather than sending out emails related to the survey ourselves, we have a chain of custom emails to be sent by the CEO or CHRO so that leadership can begin rebuilding trust through the assessment process. Another way we influence rebuilding trust is how we go about creating action items in response to the survey. We form an action team of about eight people from different levels/departments/diverse backgrounds to create an action plan for change and report to the leadership team. It becomes a way to build trust and get buy-in from the workforce because the action plan is developed by people in the trenches rather than leaders.

Another theme we often find is that the workforce wants more feedback about their performance and more information on career progression and opportunities within the organization. We generally end up helping our clients create succession planning programs, revamping their performance management system, and improving their onboarding programs to make it easier for newcomers to get acclimated into the culture. Creating core values is another big piece of what we do, helping leadership and managers push those values into all areas of the organization.

Could you cite a case study so readers can gain an in-depth understanding of your process?

A California-wide organization that supplements the foster care system with counseling and education approached us because of the stressful nature of their workforce’s job and the administrator’s sense that the team was experiencing decreased morale and burnout. In addition, the statewide organization had implemented its employee engagement survey, and this particular site received the lowest scores across all locations. When we were called to help, we completed our survey, which showed people were disengaged due to a variety of reasons, including lack of communication and some internal conflict happening within the workforce. After partnering with their action team to address these and other issues, we redid the survey a year later, and the responses had improved on 100 per cent of the questions. Across 44 questions asked, the average percentage of people who marked ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ went up by 14 per cent from the previous survey. In addition, responses to several questions improved by more than 30 per cent.

What led to the creation of Civility Partners?

I started Civility Partners right out of graduate school with a mission of ending workplace bullying. All my research had focused on that topic during school, so I also wrote my first book at that time, entitled ‘Back Off! Your kick-ass Guide to End Bullying in the Workplace’, which has a foreword by Ken Blanchard. Over time we moved into focusing on the anecdote of workplace bullying - an environment that doesn’t tolerate negative behavior because it has a positive, thriving environment. That was my thinking, hence the name Civility Partners.
  • We redid the survey a year later and the responses had improved on 100 percent of the questions… several questions improved by more than 30 percent


In any company, the employee experience and expertise give a competitive edge. How do those two translate into Civility Partners’ success?


My team keeps Civility Partners thriving, and I am so proud of us. We have a fantastic team dynamic and work well together. Rebecca Del Secco manages most of the work on our assessments, including interviewing leaders, putting the survey together, interviewing a random selection of the workforce, and developing the report. She also runs many client projects resulting from the action plans we help create. Dr Toni Herndon and Kathy Grey are our resident facilitators and coaches. They lead training participants and coach clients through transformative experiences to help them become self-aware and engage in positive and respectful behavior. Sabrina Singh keeps us all on track as our master of operations and processes. I can’t imagine Civility Partners without them.