Employees may speak more freely when the Owner isn’t in the room. Or they may play safe and keep silent altogether. Dealing with employees is a never ending struggle for me as a business owner. When things go wrong I’m least likely to get honest feedback – just when I need it the most.
Thoughts of the Day: Communication is a 2 way street. Deal with the frustrating situations, so you can get them out of the way. It takes time and practice to build a culture of open, constructive feedback. Sometimes it’s hard for owners to accept criticism. Sharing information openly with employees is a good start. Find a major payoff through idea sharing, collaboration, and engagement.
Most business owners are as uncomfortable with silence and anyone else. They rush to fill the quiet spots, thinking people are waiting for them to provide information and guidance. Could be that people are only waiting for a pause so they can get a suggestion in edgewise.
Make sure that you allow employees to put in their two cents. Look the person you’re talking to in the eye. Practice patient stillness. You’ll find it only takes a few seconds for someone else to jump into the discussion.
Acknowledge that you heard what someone had to say by playing it back. Try repeating the last word as a question. Or, ask them to keep going, to clarify, to expand on the thought. Do it with a smile and a nod of the head.
Recognize that because you’re the boss, people need to be encouraged to speak up. And they need to know that if they express an opinion, they won’t get in trouble for it. If you don’t like what someone has to say, bite your lip instead of snapping back with a contradiction. Sleep on it before responding.
Ever felt stuck, frustrated, unwilling to get on board with something? Be honest with yourself. It’s a common reaction.
Without an opportunity to have a say, it’s hard to be in a positive frame of mind. It’s normal to want to walk away and not be involved. That happens to employees all the time, as they wish to be heard and get frustrated when they’re not.
Reading about South Africa’s experiment with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, led me to some observations about how to engage people in working through difficult circumstances. Encourage:
- Accurate and complete sharing of information
- Impartial conduct of hearings when problems arise
- Inclusion of all parties in economic advancement and political power sharing
- Follow up designed to move people from airing grievances to planning a way forward together.
Share examples of when employees told you not to do something and they were right. Talk about how their taking a risk to stand up to you helped the company to succeed. Show people you can accept being wrong.
Make it safe for people to bring issues forward by allowing them to be heard without rebuttal. Practice saying thank you when the news delivered is critical, even when you don’t think it’s well deserved. If the employee is wrong, take them aside and discuss the issue one-on-one.
Speak to employees as grown ups. Treat each person with respect, honesty and dignity. Give them information they need to do their jobs. Let them sort out the details and learn from their mistakes.
There are significant payoffs to the company for getting employees to provide honest and open feedback. Here are just a few examples: lower turnover, better payoff for training budgets, higher output for similar paychecks.
Employees who are heard are more likely to engage and collaborate. Recognition for speaking up reinforces the behavior, leading to greater degrees of risk-taking contribution. People start looking for the next opportunity to step up, going from avoidance to garnering additional recognition.
Looking for a good book? Try… It’s OK to Be the Boss: The Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming the Manager Your Employees Need, by Bruce Tulgan.