We have a working hypothesis that says successful businesses foster a culture where “fearless” communication and feedback is expected and encouraged. We also believe that clarity of business purpose is a powerful catalyst creating such a culture.
If you lead a team of people, have you ever had the feeling that one or more of those people is pretty happy to share their opinion on how your business is travelling?
Even (especially) when they're not asked?
If you have, you should a) be grateful and b) encourage all your employees to have that exact same attitude.
Does that seem a little odd?
Surely a harmonious business is a happy business, right?
...harmony at the expense of open and honest communication won’t foster a culture of innovation and growth.
We think about it this way: ideas, innovation and measured risk taking are the lifeblood of a growing business. In turn, the lifeblood of ideas, innovation and measured risk taking, is open and fearless communication.
Most business owners and leaders we speak to claim to encourage open communication (their employees may beg to differ, but that’s what most owners and leaders say). Not too many, when pressed for an honest response, would agree that communication is 100% fearless.
Why is fearlessness among employees really important?
Let’s get one thing straight….we’re not talking about an environment where people simply say what they want, when they want, to whomever they want with no filter. That kind of workplace can be toxic and totally unproductive – we’ve all been there.
As leaders, the environment we ought to be encouraging is one where there’s no fear of communicating one’s own ideas (and views on the ideas of others) openly and in a way that facilitates open debate and discussion.
Because when people are hesitant to speak up, that’s when great ideas and opinions go missing in action.
Everyone in the team should be encouraged to contribute without fear.
That’s a business “non-negotiable”.
What makes people hesitant?
It’s different things for different people and in different environments. For some, it’s the worry that others will think their idea or opinion sucks (for want of a better term) so it won't be valued or even taken seriously. That’s often the way natural introverts think.
For others it’s a worry that their ideas and opinions are a bit outspoken which again may draw an adverse reaction from other employees. These folks probably don’t want to be seen (and potentially treated) as an outsider, so rather than speak up they’ll let things slide.
There’s a whole range of reasons people may hesitate to open up within the team. As leaders, we need to have the emotional intelligence to be aware there’s an issue, to identify what the cause or causes might be and address those causes with acceptable, inclusive solutions.
And now we’ve mentioned it, what about the leader…?
Often, sadly, that's who actually gets in the way. It can be the leader’s reaction (conscious or not) to employees’ ideas that can stifle discussion before it even starts. We need to be acutely aware of how people perceive us and our reactions - what we say and what we do - and be careful to be supportive and encouraging of fearlessness in team communication.
As leaders, we also need to take a step back and try not to be too controlling or directive in how new ideas evolve. There’s nothing worse than a leader who thinks all the answers sit with them and their leadership team. Giving employees the freedom to explore ideas on their own terms will inevitably lead to better outcomes.
The bottom line?
All the evidence is in.
Globally, businesses large and small report employee engagement scores are higher when people feel involved and have input to how the business evolves. It’s important for employees to “get” the purpose of the business and be involved at some level in strategic and business planning for example.
It’s been reported that communications are incredibly important in employee engagement. If employees feel safe in expressing themselves on a range of issues to their peers and leaders, there’ll be a positive impact on engagement scores.
And that’s good for business. It’s good for customer satisfaction, staff turnover and ultimately good for profitability.
If this Insight has given you food for thought, you're probably interested in creating sustainable growth in your business. That's where GrowthCatalyst can help.
We invite you to contact us to arrange a conversation, face-to-face or virtual.
Alternatively, you can book a time for an initial discussion here.
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