When Manny left the room, the facilitator again solicited feedback on how the staff felt about the session. He got an earful. The overall consensus was that although Manny boasted about an "open-door policy" and an interest in their ideas, over the years most of their suggestions had been ignored. So, they simply stopped giving them. Some people even felt that Manny had an "I'm the boss" or "do it my way" attitude. Therefore, they were reluctant to approach him with their concerns or suggestions.
Does this scenario sound familiar?
While Manny had a team that pulled together when necessary, he had inadvertently and unknowingly failed to create a work environment that fostered an open communication climate. In such a climate, employees feel free to express opinions, voice complaints, and offer suggestions. This freedom of expression is fundamental to creativity and innovation.
Research has consistently shown that this open communication climate has these seven distinct characteristics:
- Employees are valued.
Employees are a reservoir of information. They want to be heard and to feel that they are making significant contributions in their workplaces. The manner in which you hear them will shape, to a large degree, whether or not they feel valued. Nothing is more demoralizing than asking employees for suggestions and then ignoring them without clearly explaining why. When you ignore their ideas, you are sending the message that their opinions don't count. When employees don't think their opinion counts, they feel detached and insignificant. Ultimately this impacts the employees' attitude, which, in turn, impacts customer service. On the other hand, when you recognize an employee's suggestion — whether you implement the suggestion or not — it builds confidence in the company and reinforces to employees that their efforts can make the organization better. In essence, employees are happier and more motivated when they feel that they are appreciated and treated with respect.
- There is a high level of trust.
Trust forms the foundation for open communication, employee retention, and employee motivation. Trust is empowering. Individuals who trust the people they work with are self-assured, open, and honest, willing to take risks, less resistant to change, and inclined to act in a trustworthy manner. In contrast, individuals who distrust the people they work with tend to be less productive because they feel unsupported and alone. Trust in an organization promotes cooperation, commitment, and a free flow of ideas. It can help an organization survive and achieve a competitive advantage. A key factor in maintaining a high level of trust is to always tell the truth.
- Conflict is invited and resolved positively.
Conflict itself isn't good or bad — it's just inevitable. Make it work for you by using it to invite normal give and take dialogue with employees. When dealing with conflict, be open-minded and listen. Take into account the employees' feelings about the situation and find areas within their position in which you can both agree. If at all possible, strive for a win/win. If you don't have conflict, you don't have innovation and creativity.
- Creative dissent is welcomed.
Surveys have consistently shown that most employees are afraid to question or disagree with their superiors. However, in an organization where the leaders are committed to fostering an open communication climate, dissent is not only welcomed but rewarded. Employees are encouraged to think, question, and form independent judgments and take responsibility for changing the way business is done. One way to encourage employees to think is initiating an employee suggestion program. This allows the employees to come up with ideas on how to improve the company, and they are in turn rewarded for that. Being able to express unique ideas allows the employee to feel as if they contributed to the company in a positive way.
- Employee input is solicited.
In any serious world-class quality effort, a key requirement is that all employees, (regardless of race, gender, religion, culture, language, sexual orientation, age, etc.) at all levels, be involved to their fullest abilities. Employee input is a key to an organization's success. Do not limit open communication to only staff meetings. Create a questionnaire or grievance form in which employees can express concerns in a guaranteed confidential manner and then discuss it openly during a meeting. This method will help to provide information regarding your company that you may or may not be aware of, and it will also establish a sense of involvement while improving working relations and security for the employee.
- Employees are well-informed through formal channels.
While the grapevine can be a credible source for communication, to avoid misunderstanding and miscommunication, it is best to use formal vehicles (meetings, memos, e-mail, etc.) to keep employees informed on what is happening within the organization. If these tools are not put into effect, then you are putting your company at risk due to the lack of knowledge, interaction, support, and formal communication.
- Feedback is on-going.
Feedback (positive and negative) is the tool for improved performance. Annual performance appraisals aren't enough. People need to know regularly how they are doing. When giving feedback, be specific, descriptive, and focus on the person's behavior and not the person. An example of specific and descriptive behavior is, "Chris, you did an exceptional job selling the Sentra to that couple. Your attentiveness to their needs and your knowledge of the car were excellent." This is said as opposed to saying, "Good job selling the car, Chris." The latter is neither specific nor descriptive, and makes it sound as though you're not engaged with Chris's efforts to improve. Feedback must be on-going, given in an effort to resolve problems without placing guilt, and about building relationships instead of "being right."
About the Author
Daisy Saunders is a speaker, a trainer, and the founder of Big Eyes International, a consulting firm specializing in personal empowerment and leadership development. With 15 years of experience, Daisy helps maximize potential at organizations like NASA, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Freddie Mac, and more. She is also author of Big Eyes...Big Eyedeas for Achieving Optimum Success in Business and Life. For more information about her speaking and consulting, visit www.BigEyesIntl.com or call 941-266-0676.