CEO of my company invited me to lunch and asked me about the company (good & bad), other employees (who is good, who is bad, who should be kept, who should be gone), & even who hate her. I couldn't change the topics at all. What would be the appropriate responses to these questions?
There are three stances that you can take in that situation. All of them are legit, have pros, and cons. It boils down to the following questions : who are you the most loyal to, and who do you want to have the best relationship with - your boss, or your coworkers ?
1] You won't answer these questions.
You can legitimately feel uncomfortable criticizing other employees, especially if you have a good relationship with them. Very directly, you can tell your CEO something along the lines of "Madam, I am sorry, but I do not think it is appropriate for me to judge on my fellow co-workers."
Pros : This solves your problem, as you will not have to answer the question. Also, if your coworkers learn about this lunch, they will probably think highly of you, as a trustworthy and loyal person.
Cons : Depending on your boss' character and personality, she might take it poorly. Since she seems very insistant on getting the answers, she could take a refusal as a personal offense.
2] Answer her questions.
As the CEO of the company, she wants to know who is productive, and who is not. If you are not the one giving her the information, who will ? Answer the questions on who is good/bad as objectively as you can. You might want to dodge questions like "Who hates me ?", since they are highly personal and not business related.
Pros : You get a better relationship with your CEO, and you could have an impact on the team you are working with. You could get someone who is, indeed, a problem, fired.
Cons : Co-workers might see you as a whistleblower, especially if she uses the information as arguments in an interview with said coworkers.
3] Everyone is great.
This is a middle ground between 1 and 2. You will answer the questions, you will just not give any negative answers. Speak highly of everyone, say you love your team, and you do not want any change in it, as you are working as a unit and are producing more collectively than the sum of individuals would.
Pros : your team will think highly of you if they learn about it. You are not betraying anyone, and you do not risk being used as a justification to fire someone.
Cons : This might make your boss furious, if she feels you're purposely dodging the questions. Additionally, if she gets advice from someone who chooses option 2], you lose the opportunity to impact the staffing in a positive way for you.
I'm going to assume you are a manager here(or quite high up):
CEO of my company invited me to lunch and asked me about the company (good & bad)
This is fine. Don't go slating everything, but if you can bring up a pain point and justify it, then it could lead to change.
other employees (who is good, who is bad, who should be kept, who should be gone)
Uh-Oh. This is where it gets problematic.
I presume he meant people you directly work with. I think answering this puts you in a problematic position, but not answering these also leads to the same.
Do you have any performance reviews to fall back on here? For example if "Bob" is on a Performance Improvement Plan and is doing well, say that. If "Fred" scored very well in the performance review then mention that.
If "Julie" has done good work in a good project, cite that, but unless there is someone you want to get rid of, then you need to tread carefully here. It has all the hallmarks of a way for team morale to dive massively if "Alan" knows that you told the CEO to get rid of him.
Here, I would try to fall back on performance reviews, as these have been discussed with the employees so you can "justify" your comments. Being caught on the spot like that though may make this difficult.
& even who hate her.
The simple answer to this is you don't know. Even if you do think someone hates the CEO, you can't answer this.
Say to the CEO "I can answer your question only from my limited vantage point as a non-management employee who works well with everyone and therefore has no complaints about anyone. And I hope that no one has any complaints about me or the way I work with them." And if it comes to that: "Don't ask me who is bad on the basis of my second hand knowledge. I wouldn't want to be strung up on the basis of someone's second hand knowledge about me either. Thanks for the lunch".