What your people really want

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The crystal ball of employee surveys is showing us that workers are frustrated with their employers. Their major gripe? Companies won't put policies and practices in place to support their own goals.

In a recent survey of 800 people in the finance, healthcare, retail, aerospace and defense sectors, nearly half of those surveyed believed that a lack of transparency held their company back from achieving its objectives. This lack of transparency included not being forthright and open about the company's direction and not seeking input from workers before making important decisions.

I've written about this issue before: too many senior managers may have the big picture, but they make much better decisions when they have input from people at all levels of the organization. Just watch "Undercover Boss" or revisit something I wrote back in 2004 I'm not asking you to swallow goldfish - which I wrote long before Undercover Boss was a TV show).

According to Halley Bock, CEO of Fierce, Inc. (the company that conducted the recent employee survey), managers who make decisions without getting feedback from employees at various levels in the organization "are costing our companies billions of dollars, driving away our most valuable employees and customers, limiting performance, and stalling careers."

Regarding sharing the big picture and getting feedback, Bock goes on to state that managers should "question the practices in place and actively engage their staff in creating new policies that are geared toward more transparency and employee empowerment."

And what if they do? Three quarters of survey respondents said that if their managers sought input from them they would give it. That's a huge proportion! Imagine the valuable feedback. Imagine more employees feeling ownership of their projects. Imagine the increase in efficiency. But the obstacle stopping this from happening is managers thinking they have to have all the answers.

One quote I like, attributed to the English journalist Charles Edward Montague, is "There is no limit to what a man can do so long as he does not care a straw who gets the credit for it."

Or, as President Theodore Roosevelt said "The credit belongs to those who are actually in the arena."

Managers, please look at the people on your team and realize that they are actually in the arena. Seek their input. Consider their perspectives. You don't have to implement everything they suggest, but it's probably very true what Halley Bock points out; your company is losing a lot of money when their input is not sought.

Establishing an environment of collaboration
If your organization is one of those that is not adept at soliciting employee input on ideas, you have to accept that it won't turn around overnight. Getting worthwhile feedback from employees requires a solid, trusting connection. That takes time, because trust must be nurtured and built, it doesn't just appear.

Think about an apple tree. It doesn't just decide it's time to deliver and then out pop ready-to-eat apples. No, apples start as flowers getting pollinated and every apple grows over time. And, if the conditions for growth are not correct from the start, then apples won't grow well.

In the same way, environments of collaboration are built and strengthened over time. Watercooler conversations can be initiated by managers about the company's big picture, and managers can ask employees their thoughts.

In this practice I recommend the rule of "zero criticism." That is, managers should actively seek and listen to employees' thoughts and not abruptly tell someone why his/her idea won't work. If you want people to offer their input, they've got to feel safe or they'll never do it again. Even a disapproving glance from a manager can squelch an employee's trust for years.

One management practice to support collaboration is thinking of oneself more as a coach than as a boss. Part of the coaching role includes managers placing a stronger emphasis on employees' professional development. They help employees learn how to develop their own solutions by helping them see the ripple effects of various decisions.

As transparency grows and trust is built, managers can even invite specific employees to attend management meetings – a practice known as shadowing. This helps employees see more of what is involved in making key decisions, and boatloads of trust are built at the same time.

A good practice is to first work on team issues, and then gradually look at departmental and even company-wide issues.

However you do it, when employees are more aware of their company's goals and are able to provide input on the best ways to help achieve those goals, then it's much more likely for employees to be engaged and for companies to be more profitable on multiple levels.

Another quote I like is that "a single leaf working alone provides no shade." So no, I'm not asking you to swallow goldfish. I'm simply suggesting managers engage employees more to achieve better results. It is, after all, what they want, too.

Copyright © Dan Bobinski, used with permission
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