So many good intentions. So many unintended consequences.
I read an article on employee engagement in a magazine and there was an interesting feature on what one company was doing to increase engagement. First, the company states their culture is ‘to seek opinions and feedback from employees’. Then, they go on to share this example of how they get people involved… In moving to a new corporate location they assembled A design team of nominated employees from every floor to guide the process. Sounds good, right? Sounds very open and inclusive. Examine the statement more closely. Do you see the disconnect? Seek and nominate are not synonymous terms.
If you really want to seek opinions and feedback you don’t nominate, you ask who is interested. Seeking indicates searching, nominating indicates appointing. Certainly no (good) manager deliberately tries to alienate their employees. Unfortunately, despite our best intentions we end up doing just that.
This scenario plays out in organizations of all sizes all across the country. For example, a committee is needed for a variety of reasons – designing the floor layout, organizing the summer picnic, improving customer service scores, etc. – so the manager selects a couple of employees to be on the team. That’s great for the people who were selected but what about the person with the passion for designing, a knack for party planning, or experience with improving customer service scores. Typically, the manager selects the employees, based on what limited information they know about them, without opening it up to see who is interested.
Herein lies the problem. How does the manager know if they have all the information they need to make an informed decision? Maybe one of the employees is outgoing and likes to talk about what they did over the weekend or the night before and because of this the manager knows that this person loves to throw parties and now this employee becomes a natural choice for the party planning committee.
This is a big mistake and can lead to missed opportunities. What about the employee who is more private and doesn’t share a lot about their personal life but who also loves to plan parties? They don’t even get the chance because the manager nominated rather than asked.
The number of ideas left on the table because most managers tell employees what to do, rather than ask for opinions and feedback is staggering. Asking vs. telling is indispensable when it comes to getting employee buy-in. Change management is a good example. Employees are rarely given the opportunity to give their feedback or even ask questions when change is rolled out. ‘You must build excitement around the Big Opportunity and develop a feeling that one “Wants To” (not “Has To”) contribute.’ Kotter, John. “Enlist a Volunteer Army.” 8 Step Process for Leading Change. Kotter International. Web. 25 Sept. 2015.
Think of your own experiences. When was the last time you had the opportunity to weigh in, or even ask questions, when an intiative was rolled out? I’m not talking about the perfunctory disclaimer ‘let me know if you have any questions’ at the bottom the a memo announcing a change.
I’m talking about a conversation, in person, with your staff, that goes like this…
Manager: one of our department initiatives for Q4 is to improve our customer service ratings. What are your ideas on how we could improve our scores? Is anyone interested in being involved with this initiative?
Couldn’t that make a difference? Might that elicit a feeling of ‘want to’ from someone on your team? At the very least, doesn’t it eradicate the negative feelings that accompany not being heard? It really doesn’t need to be any more difficult than that. The best ideas are simple.
Nominating someone is good but searching for ideas is even better. The road to employee disengagement is paved with good intentions. Always assume you don’t have all the facts and get in the habit of asking vs. telling. It won’t take long to see a noticable improvement in attitudes and productivity.