In the early 1990s, Alan Lewis struggled to create a mission statement for his travel company, Grand Circle Corp. The final document outlined the Boston-based company's responsibilities to "our customers, our associates [ read employees] , our stakeholders, and our world." But by the mid-1990s, the demands of the company's rapid growth had made it difficult for Lewis to gauge how well Grand Circle was living up to those lofty ideals. So he queried the folks who knew best. Lewis asked employees to grade the company in each of the four areas covered in the mission statement.

Lewis found the exercise so helpful that it's now repeated two to three times a year at the company, according to Grand Circle communications director Priscilla O'Reilly. A survey is sent via e-mail to all employees, and they are asked to grade the company on its performance in the areas of responsibility to associates, responsibility to customers, financial responsibility, and social responsibility. The results are tabulated and brought to the senior management team, along with the summary of the issues that employees raise as they complete the "report card." That senior team, O'Reilly says, chooses the top issues in each area, makes some decisions about how to address them, and then reports on those decisions at a companywide monthly meeting.

Management's report also goes into the company newsletter, O'Reilly notes. For example, in 1997, employees gave the company a "B" in financial responsibility -- the major issue raised was control of the company's general and administrative (G&A) expenses. "You said that leadership needs to be more accountable and that departments should know and stick to their budgets," management reported in the company newsletter. "Beginning in 1998, departments are responsible for their own G&A expenditures, with detailed budgets, monthly reviews and outlooks, and accountability of functional heads."

Grand Circle employees aren't exactly easy graders. For example, in the fourth quarter of 1998, employees gave the company a "B-" in every area except social responsibility, where the company earned an "A." O'Reilly explains that the company's corporate culture is "very critical -- the idea being that negative criticism is really positive." Indeed, the criticism highlights issues that are important to the business, such as a need to upgrade the company's computer systems and to improve the company's ability to predict call volume.

Grand Circle is certainly doing something right: The company has grown substantially -- from about 230 employees in 1995 to about 600 in early 1999, O'Reilly says -- and revenues reached $228.2 million in 1998.