Getting your employees to a place in which they feel comfortable enough to speak up is sometimes an organizational journey. Fresh and vibrant ideas are vital to organizational success but there are times when your employees are hesitant to share them.
According to new research from Rice University, how a leader responds to employee suggestions can impact whether or not the employee continues to share ideas in the future.
Danielle King, an assistant professor of psychological sciences at Rice, is the lead author of “Voice Resilience: Fostering Future Voice After Non-Endorsement of Suggestions.” Her research details how leaders can use language that encourages workers to offer more ideas in the future, even if their suggestions are not implemented.
After conducting two studies, King found that those who speak up at work – even if their ideas are shot down – will continue to offer other suggestions if their bosses respond positively and encouragingly.
While many ideas cannot tactically be implemented, the results of the studies show the need for providing sensitive explanations for why suggestions are not embraced. King suggests that it would be helpful for organizations to provide training for leaders, teaching them how to let employees down gently while encouraging them to continue to speak up.
Workforce demographics have also drastically changed over the past few years. Baby Boomers are starting to retire and newer generations are entering the workforce. Enabling employees to contribute to the overall direction of their organization is increasingly important for the newer generations. In a 2017 Millennial Survey, Deloitte argues that millennials want to work in places where they feel empowered and accountable – where they feel they can make a difference and have an impact. However, I would argue that most generations feel the same. Listening to your employees remains critical.
If you find that your organization is struggling in terms of having employees share ideas, there are a few things you can do to help.
How to Get Your Employees to Open Up and Share Suggestions
Understand the Root of Silence:
Until you understand the root cause of silence, you won’t be successful in changing your culture. If your employees wonder why they should bother bringing forth ideas, you have dangerous thinking permeating your company. Silence means something is amiss. Clamming up in meetings and avoiding dialogue is stifling to any organization. If this is happening, it is up to you to understand why by getting to the source of their concerns. What, exactly, concerns them about opening up? One-on-one informal conversations will foster an environment where employees feel safe. If your organization hands down edicts about “what not to say” and “who not to say it to”, you have your work cut out for you.
Act on Great Ideas and Provide Explanations for the Ones You Cannot Execute:
An idea is useless if nothing ever happens. King suggests that, “It may be valuable to help employees understand that extenuating circumstances sometimes prevent implementation of potentially good ideas. If you can provide valid justification for why certain ideas cannot be implemented, your employees will feel as if they are still being heard.” King further adds, “If such explanations are delivered in a sensitive manner, this should maintain the type of leader-employer relationship that encourages employees to speak up in the future.”
Don’t Brush Off Any Idea Immediately:
Consider the merits of every idea. Don’t be quick to dismiss suggestions until you think about it. What would be gained by implementation? Is the idea feasible? What may sound crazy might work if you walk through it.
Publicize Accepted Ideas:
When your employees provide stellar ideas, recognize them. Employees respond well to leaders who share the credit. When your team sees that suggestions do matter, they will be more receptive to giving more ideas.
Ask Your Employees For Help in Solving Specific Problems:
You are not expected to know everything as a leader even though it feels that way at times. Ask for help if you are stumbling. Having a fresh perspective can provide a breakthrough when you bring everyone in on the big picture. Ask your team to come up with new ideas in a specific area that is challenging. One way to encourage innovation is having an exchange of ideas. Sometimes it is as simple as asking a question and sharing views and opinions.
Teach Innovation and Creativity:
While many psychologists disagree on whether creativity can be taught, workshops can provide an environment and foundation that allows employees to exercise their imaginative and creative thinking. There are certain habits, behaviors, and strategies that are associated with the creative process that can be modeled at work. Organizations should strive to promote and sustain a nurturing environment for creativity. There are many companies who have wonderful creativity workshops. It may be worth the investment.
Build Trust by Making Idea-Sharing Routine:
You can get employees in the habit of speaking up. In one-on-one meetings, set aside a few minutes to dedicate a portion to discuss issues, concerns, and solutions. These one-on-one conversations are vital for building a foundation of trust. You can eventually roll it out to a larger group with the eye on how you deal with challenges together.
Give Employees Advance Warning Before Asking for New Ideas:
I’m an introvert and I’ve never liked being taken by surprise and speaking about something in a meeting for which I had not prepared. Don’t introduce a new idea without warning and don’t ask for new ideas without warning. Set the stage and your dialogue will be more fruitful.
Don’t Dominate the Conversation:
If you want to encourage ideas from all employees, you must stop talking. Don’t fall into the trap of wanting to dominate the conversation. Listen first, then reflect and question to draw out details, but don’t immediate give your views because others may want to fall in line with your way of thinking.