DILEMMA: 'Why won't the employees in my company tell me what they think? Despite the comparative openness of the firm's culture, getting honest feedback from staff is still a nightmare. What can I do?'
ISSUES: Consider what your real problem might be. Is it really that you aren't getting the feedback you want or are communications in the business generally poor? If they are, then you have a bigger problem to solve.
What sort of feedback are you looking for - basic operating stuff or people's dreams and nightmares? Most of us want to ensure we know what's going on and what staff are worrying about.
Unless you are lousy at hiring people, the problem usually derives from the atmosphere you create and your leadership style. Movie mogul Sam Goldwyn apparently once said: 'I want you all to tell me what you think, even if it costs you your jobs!' You're unlikely to keep good people through fear, even in a recessionary environment. And if you do, they'll be off once your market picks up.
Ask yourself some basic questions. Are staff frightened of you? Do they trust you? Do you appear not to listen? Are you too defensive when challenged? Do you listen but never do anything with what you hear? Are you trying to be a friend when all your staff want is a supportive boss? It's time to hold the mirror up; if you're spotty, sort your zits out!
The problem could be more to do with communications infrastructure. Effective internal communications ensure that everyone has the right information to do their job well and to create a strong culture. Success comes through 'plumbing with attitude'. What's that? Strong underpinning processes, managers who are good communicators and a leader who sets a great example. It is also helpful to have a 'senior vigilante' who isn't the CEO. His or her role is to be permanently raising everyone's game.
- Decide whether to tackle general internal communications or get better personal feedback.
- If it's personal feedback you want, look in the mirror and sort out your flaws.
- If it's internal communications, get the attitude right, sort out the 'plumbing' and appoint a vigilante from the senior team.
- Try to keep it all in perspective. A company that spends all its time communicating with itself won't keep customers. Nor will a business full of disconnected silent seethers whose leader doesn't know what's going on.