A recent survey of over 50,000 individuals at one company shows that nearly 50% of all employees, from the boardroom to the mail room, feel it’s not safe to speak up or challenge traditional ways of doing things.
In any company, one of the most influential factors affecting profits is making accurate and informed decisions. Unfortunately, employees frequently withhold vital information that could influence major decisions, purely because it’s difficult to point out the hard, yet sometimes obvious, truth.
“Employees aren’t failing to provide ideas or input because they’ve ‘checked out’ and just don’t care, but because of fear.” (Smith & Marcum, Egonomics)
When employees withhold their opinions because of fear, it can be at the expense of something far more significant than someone’s ego. In 1996, eight people died on a climbing expedition on Mt. Everest. Two of the climbers were among the world’s most experienced Everest guides. Part of the blame rests upon junior members of the climbing team who knew the expedition leaders were not following protocol, yet did not speak up as they should have.
Another example is NASA’s infamous Columbia mission of 2003, which resulted in the death of all seven crew members. Engineers could have prevented the incident, but were reluctant to challenge the belief that the foam strikes incurred during the launch of the shuttle would pose a risk to the fuselage.
On the other hand, Google has benefited immensely by enabling employees to speak their minds. Google has a policy called “Innovative Time Off” where engineers are encouraged to spend 20% of their work week on projects that interest them. Because of this policy, and the willingness to listen to their employees, millions of people now have access to Gmail, Google News, Google Maps, and AdSense.
Do you ask for the opinions of those you manage to justify your own ideas? Or, are you inviting employees to help you explore and discover the truth that leads to the best decisions for both your customers and your company?
If you’re going for the latter, take into consideration that “emotions like fear, anxiety, frustration, anger, and distrust arise when people don’t think it’s safe to speak.” (Smith & Marcum) Fostering a culture that understands that dissent is not disloyalty will increase your employee’s productivity, creativity and job satisfaction.
Mindshare provides a voice for hundreds of thousands of employees across the world to companies who have chosen to listen. Time and time again, we’ve seen these companies benefit by listening to those who are on the front lines every day. A culture of open discussion may not save lives like it could have on Everest or at NASA, but it can save your business.
For more information on how you can use employee feedback to improve the culture and interactions between management and employees, check out “Delivering and Measuring Customer Service” by Richard Hanks.