It’s important for leaders to know that, when it comes to teams, just because the weekly team meetings are quiet or the suggestion box hasn’t seen a valid recommendation or criticism in a while, doesn’t mean no one has anything to say. In fact, more often than not, employees have thoughts, suggestions and criticisms to offer, but they don’t share because they’re not sure how their leaders will respond if they do.
Listening to your employees and their ideas is a powerful and important way to help your business grow and progress, so how can you get them to speak up? To help, eight members of Young Entrepreneur Council provide tips on how to encourage employees to share their ideas at work.
1. Make It A Point To Really Listen To Employees
Be a better listener. When your employees do speak up, let them clearly and completely deliver their message, and then double back to make sure you heard them correctly. Proceed from there. When your staff sees that you are an empathetic listener, they will more than likely speak up more often. – Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance
2. Be Open By Example
Leaders encourage employees to speak up by showing vulnerability. They exhibit the behavior they desire to create by displaying authenticity in their words and actions. Have you, as a leader, told your team a story about your biggest failure? Have you shared with them your own personal fears? When a leader covers up their flaws and doesn’t disclose their mistakes, it teaches their team to do the same. On the other hand, when a leader allows themselves to be fully exposed, it builds trust and collaboration becomes easier. When employees know they are respected and trusted, ideas, criticisms and thoughts are shared freely and openly. – Daniel Reilly, B2X Global
3. Have An Open-Door Culture
Make sure your employees and colleagues know that you will always find a minute for them in your day to listen to their ideas, thoughts and challenges. Often, thoughts and emotions are not easily expressed, so having an open door helps the employee approach you when the time is right for them. This leads to a positive outcome for both employee and leader as the conversation is much more fruitful. You should also leave room in every meeting for natural conversation to emerge. Oftentimes, a packed agenda puts individuals who don’t easily speak up in the back seat. When ideas and thoughts can flow and emerge naturally, you’d be surprised about who speaks up and about the quality and clarity of their contributions. – Fabi Hubschmid, Markaaz
4. Place Equal Value On Good And Bad Ideas
So often, employees think if their idea isn’t perfect, it isn’t worth sharing. But the reality is, the bad ideas often lead to finding good alternatives or the strange suggestions remind you of something worth exploring. It simply comes down to feeling comfortable throwing anything and everything out there. To spark this level of sharing, you must build a comfort with sharing for your team. I like to have an idea session where we only share ideas that we think are bad. We start the brainstorm off where everyone goes around and thinks of terrible ideas. This loosens up the room and gets everyone comfortable sharing without pressure. From here, we often naturally begin to generate great ideas. – Matthew Podolsky, Florida Law Advisers, P.A.
5. Offer Incentives For Sharing Ideas
I believe you can encourage your employees to speak up at work by creating a culture where employees know they will not be punished for speaking up, speaking out or offering new ideas. Rather than having a fear-based company culture, create an environment where employees are actually rewarded for having a different opinion or bringing a different idea to the table. Why is this important? Diversity of thought and inclusion of ideas (rather than only those of senior leadership) can create a space for the company to thrive. If an employee is incentivized for having an opinion rather than being deemed “insubordinate,” they will likely engage more at work and perform better at their job. – Ismael Wrixen, FE International
6. Show Them Their Ideas Actually Make A Difference
One of the big reasons why employees are hesitant to speak out is because they feel like it’s not worth their time to do so. While they might feel listened to, they rarely if ever see their concerns taken seriously or their ideas have an impact. As a leader, it’s important to not only make an effort to sit down and listen, but also to take that information and insight and use it. Show your team that it is worthwhile to speak out. Prove to them that their feedback is a valuable piece of your leadership strategy, and show them how you incorporate their input. When they see that they are heard and are part of positive change, it will be easier and easier to get your employees to speak out, be productive and engage in the workplace. – Blair Thomas, eMerchantBroker
7. Ask For Feedback During Employee Reviews
One way we get our team to speak up is by encouraging open-ended feedback. During our quarterly reviews, we give our team a chance to review us at the end. We want to know what they think about our company, their role and our leadership. When we ask for feedback in this setting, almost everyone has something constructive to say. This information helps us improve internally, which leads to external results, like happier customers. – John Brackett, Smash Balloon LLC
8. Offer Various Platforms For Sharing
Having just one way for team members to speak up, such as a Slack channel or a big team brainstorm, is likely to discourage some personality types from ever voicing their thoughts. Your job as a leader is to provide a handful of pathways for people to share their thoughts so you can hear everyone on your team, from the loudest to the quietest. For example, we have one-on-one touch-bases with our Head of People, a section in our monthly team meetings, surveys, breakout rooms and even Google Jamboards to encourage all the voices at BAM to be heard on a consistent basis. – Beck Bamberger, BAM Communications