Word-of-Mouth Reaches the Boardroom. And for the Paycheck.

Verizon is feeling the pressure. One of the leaders in using Net Promoter™ customer feedback to drive customer loyalty and presumably improve service, is now in the awkward position of fighting against its retired employees. (Why? Deep Throat had it nailed: “Follow the money.”)

Verizon’s executive management happens to be right up there in what many would consider stratospheric – and unaccountable – executive compensation. CEO Ivan G. Seidenberg pocketed nearly $30 million last year and more than $130 million over five years. No surprise that he’s now #10 on Forbes’ list of the top-paid CEOs.

Some 16 years ago, Verizon’s former employees have created an association of retires. Now some 128,000 of them are rattling the company’s cage over pay and governance practices – for the last 16 years. It’s a rather impressive story about what people do when they become empowered – often, simply by talking to each other.

This group started with a simple newsletter, asking for $12 in donations (or more, or less, depending on what people felt they could afford). Now it’s raising its voice on board resolutions, and at the forefront of the movement to activate retirees to actively vote their shares. It’s also taking its heft outside its ranks, communicating with Verizon’s largest institutional shareholders.

Executive pay is the next area for attention. This spring’s call to action – toppling the often unquestioned assumption that executives should still be eligible to ‘earn’ 50% of their target pay incentive even if the company performs below the 30th percentile in its peer group. It’s recommending that performance be at least at or above the median of the peer group.

Of course Verizon is recommending that its shareholders reject the retirees’ proposal.

Consider this cat out of the bag.

I just hope that Verizon includes former employees in its next Net Promoter surveys. And other companies reach out to former employees, including retirees. Because everyone’s a spokesperson.

But before whipping out the latest survey, remember that surveys just reflect the common perception of corporate behavior. And people – customers, employees, retirees – know good behavior when they see it.