Most leaders say that they want to know what's going on in the organization. But they often rely on the wrong sources.
Here's how to make sure the boss is hearing the real stuff.
In demanding times, it's particularly important that leaders get honest feedback. But precisely when they need to be considering all options and opinions; they often don't hear many of them.
There are a lot of reasons for this, but the one that I see most is that the leader doesn't really care. These individuals are so certain of themselves that they truly don't think anyone else can tell them anything new.
Most won't admit this however, because they think you won't "understand". So they say things like, "I'm open to any ideas or suggestions which will make us better." And, when feedback is offered, they may even appear to appreciate it.
But, action speaks louder than words.
And that's when you can tell just how sincere their words were. Kind of like all those companies' ads that proclaim, "our most important asset is our people;" and then at the first sign of trouble they start layoffs so they can keep other activities in place.
Here are 10 field-tested ideas:
1. The anonymous hotline - nowadays these can be emails, phones, paper tools, etc. However you do it, put something into place that allows people to provide candid, honest feedback or asking questions, without fear of getting busted. Lets people could ask questions or sound off. Important that you reply to them.
2. Pubic communication tools - if you have a newsletter, don't just treat it like a PR thing pumping out pablum. Use it to keep folks aware of what's going on and deal with rumors. Publish Q & A's to address rumors.
3. Ombuds people - have someone in your organization whom team members can go to make a point, ask a question, or sound off without fear of reprisal. Make it clear to everyone that this individual has the ear of the head honcho. Let him or her know that you need them to help keep you "in touch".
4. Anonymous surveys - as long as there's no fear of the respondent being "caught", these are great tools for getting your finger on the pulse of the organization. But don't over-think them. They should be done fairly quickly and fairly frequently.
And, then make the results public. It shows the team that you're aware of their concerns. If you can't provide a fix, at least let them know that you care about the problem and will try to deal with it when you can.
5. Lunch with the leader - periodically have a lunch meeting with people from all levels invited. Make it clear that there will be time at the end of it for a Q & A session. (Also: If the group is small, make a point to sit beside the quiet one(s) and encourage them to open up.)
6. Visit other departments or offices or locations - the best way to open up communication is to show that you're accessible & interested. I don't care how often someone says they care about what's going on in other locations, if they're never there they won't hear enough.
7. Social events - many people will tell you that there's no such thing as a social / work event. They cite the Holiday Party, or the Summer Picnic as "political affairs" & they're probably right in many companies. But these don't have to be heartburn-inducing activities.
If you use them as "skip-level" affairs, you'll probably enjoy yourself more and learn a ton about what your team members are really feeling. Make it a point to spend time with those at least 2 levels below you, tell your direct reports to do the same thing and compare notes back in the office.
8. Ask for contrarians' perspectives - people figure out pretty quickly if the leader only wants to hear what he wants to hear. If you show that you appreciate a healthy debate, you're more likely to get differing ideas thrown about. That's when the good stuff comes out.
9. Get playful - a CEO I worked with was famous for throwing Nerf footballs with anyone still in their cubes after 6pm or on Saturdays. It was a kind of "jock" thing but even those less-than-jock types could throw the little soft football around. While sending a lateral pass, it provided a bit of bonding conversation and built trust between the boss and the staff.
10. MBWA - The acronym means "management by wandering around" and the premise is that if you expose yourself to enough people, enough of the time, you're going to hear things that you may not have come across. (Thx to Tom Peters for this one.)
Leaders who really want to know what's going on in their organizations do these things. Those who don't, probably don't really want to know.