Detert, James R.; Burris, Ethan R. Harvard Business Review. Jan/Feb2016, Vol. 94 Issue 1, p80-87.
No matter how approachable you may be as a manager, chances are good that your employees are withholding valuable intelligence from you. Research shows that many people are more likely to keep mum than to raise important questions or suggest new ideas. Companies use a variety of tactics to get people to open up, like “climate” surveys and all-staff feedback sessions. But they usually fall short for two key reasons: a fear of consequences and a sense of futility. In this article, two professors look at how leaders’ misguided attempts to promote candid expression fail to address—and sometimes stir up—those feelings. For example, if you ask for anonymous input, you may be signaling that it’s not safe to speak openly in your organization. And if you don’t act on feedback, employees will quickly come to believe that providing it is pointless. But there are several ways to create a much more vocal culture, say the authors. To make idea sharing less intimidating, tone down the power cues with employees, and gather feedback in regular, casual exchanges. Be transparent about the processes for gathering and following up on ideas. And if you really want to know what people think, go ask them. Research shows that when employees do speak up, organizations see increased performance. So getting all this right pays off—both for workers eager to make contributions and for their firms.