One of the saddest characteristics persisting within many organisations is the mismatch between management’s perception of how easy it is for staff to speak up and frontline staff’s perspective. A similar mismatch occurs in how trustworthy management feel they are and how much staff trust them in reality.
These themes that crop up countless times, both in results of research and more tangibly in problems that occur in businesses (the vast majority of which were highly avoidable).
Stats regularly run in the range of 70%-80% of central management believing that staff can easily raise concerns, problems or ideas and only 25%-40% of staff feeling the same way. Similar figures can be seen in the area of management believing they are trusted by their teams, and team’s actual trust in management.
The biggest myth in speaking up is the belief that staff fully trust management and are able to raise concerns freely and easily. In many organisations, it is simply not true.
This, of course, is a critical concern.
- Firstly, if your staff don’t trust you and cannot have a candid dialogue with you, you may miss business opportunities, along with opportunities to resolve problems in your workplace before they escalate.
- Secondly, trust and ability to speak up are both highly correlated with engagement and performance.
To put it bluntly, if you are not engaging with frontline staff and enabling them to speak up you are almost certainly upping the risk in your organisation at the same time as leaving money on the table in terms of performance.
So, just how do you close that gap?
Measure and understand
Don’t just guess or assume that your staff can easily speak up. Make sure you put in place the means to understand whether this is in fact true. Ensure those means are robust and take care to measure differences in belief between senior management, middle management and other staff.
Recognise it won’t be done overnight
This is not about one initiative, it is a consistent state of mind and way of operating. Yes, you can take great steps to move things forward, yes try step changes, but it won’t be done in a day with one speech, email or initiative. Recognise this and commit long term.
Make it safe – no exceptions
You don’t have to agree with everything your staff say and raise, but you and your team must never dismiss, ridicule, brush aside or even worse allow recriminations against any member of staff who speaks up. No ifs, no buts, no exceptions.
Embed it across the organisation
Make sure you remove internal breaks to speaking up. If there are groups of your management who don’t get onside, or aren’t seen to get onside, tackle it early, before a belief that things will never change sets in.
It can be hard to speak up. Be sure when your staff do that you are very clear you appreciate their efforts. Everyone likes to feel appreciated – staff speaking up are no different.
If your staff begin to feel that when they raise concerns, problems and ideas, they will be acted on, the message will spread and more staff will start joining in. Act and make it clear you have acted on feedback.
Good luck with enhancing your speaking up – and if you need us we are always here.