Senior Management Must Foster a Spirit of
Ever notice the deafening silence when a senior
manager asks a group of employees if there are any questions? Why does this
happen? In the past many employees have witnessed that others were ignored,
belittled, or embarrassed when they spoke up.
Senior managers must consciously try very hard to
ask for opinions and then listen carefully. Doing so will increase the
probability that their direct reports will be more likely to be open to new
ideas as well.
Get Rid of Suggestion Boxes.
There is no better way I know to stifle openness
than to tell employees to "stuff" their suggestions in a box. The use of such a
policy clearly signals to employees that voicing their suggestions openly to
their manager or senior management would be unacceptable or ineffective.
Train Yourself and Managers How to Listen.
Listening is a critically important management
skill that can help improve employees' willingness to speak up. Some of the key
principles (explained more fully in my free article: 10 Techniques for Getting
Employees to Talk) are listed below.
Use unconditional positive regard. - Try not
to rush to evaluate opinions and suggestions. View all of them with a positive
Dummy up. - Use the technique made famous by
"Columbo" of continually asking questions and telling employees that you "don't
understand" or "are confused."
Avoid threatening questions like "Who told you
to do it that way?" and "Who is responsible?" that will restrict the type of
responses you will receive.
Be an active listener. - You must be fully
psychologically engaged when listening to employees by maintaining eye contact,
nodding your head at the appropriate times, and saying things like "I see," and
"uh-huh" in response to their words.
Use open-ended questions such as "Could you
please tell me more about that?" or "How would you handle this problem?"
Use restatements. - Simply repeating or
paraphrasing what an employee has just said will typically encourage him or her
to continue speaking.