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Thursday, May 03, 2007

The well led team, a stepdaughter and why employees are scared to talk out.

I have always found serendipity, in reading articles and then relating them to events in life.

On Monday night, I was talking to my (prospective) stepdaughter and she has read some of the posts and asked my advise on an issue that is affecting a friends team at work. They are worried about negative feedback that they have been receiving from current customers and a trend is becoming apparent. However the atmosphere in her company is such that they feel that if they speak up then their career might be stalled in it’s tracks.

I’m afraid that I didn’t have any sage advise for her except by asking her to weigh up the pros and cons of bringing it to her superiors attention and that if the pros outweighed the cons to speak up. But also to consider whether it was a firm that she wanted to work at long term. After all would you truly want to work for a company that had such poor values.

However, this form of self censorship is quite common and research has been carried out and a summary appears in this months edition of Harvard Business Review by Detert and Edmondson - see previous post

Research has shown that this form of censorship goes from the lowest up to quite senior management.

Companies can have grievance or ombudsman processes - but the main reason is that people don’t feel safe to speak up or sometimes even creative ideas. The main reason is that self preservation is the reason - or if in doubt keep your mouth zipped.

Looking back through some notes - it isn’t always the hostile manager - there is an inhibition where there is a perception and the belief in some chilling stories. We have all heard them - oh you don’t want to say that - remember X in Department S - he spoke up and was out the door 3 months later. In a confessional moment - it has happened to me in my career.

Funnily enough employees have a belief in the hierarchy in organisations where we believe that a boss would feel either betrayed or embarrassed by a junior member of their team offering constructive criticism or more creative ideas.

This is done normally without any real supporting evidence and so remains unchallenged by people in the organisation even though it might be a corporate myth and isn’t covered by the espoused values of your organisation.

It is interesting that this is similar to a recent talk that I attended last week by Gerard Fairtlough where he highlighted that cultures of companies are sedimentary. These stories if they take hold can become part of that sediment.

I talked about my late grandfather in an earlier post and he even in more hierarchical times felt comfortable with a junior coming up with constructive criticism.

Perhaps managers need to explicitly invite and acknowledge peoples ideas and thoughts no matter how low in the organisation it comes from - and to not view it as a personal attack and if they feel that there are myths and assumptions to challenge them.

The article highlights that ideas are best expressed in public rather than private so that issues can be openly discussed and I would add that the wisdom of crowds can help to lustre the jewel of innovation and knowledge sharing in the organisation.

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