Reading the signals: How to decipher what your team isn’t telling you Featured

3:30am EDT October 1, 2012
Reading the signals: How to decipher what your team isn’t telling you

A client called me in a heightened state of frustration. Her business group recently made major decisions regarding strategy and future direction. While she was enthusiastic about what lay ahead, her team members weren’t. They were exhibiting signs of dissatisfaction and sowing the seeds of subversion. She needed to act quickly, but she didn’t know how.

Without knowing anything more, I could already guess the root of the problem: the team hadn’t felt included in the strategy-level decision-making. As I dug deeper, my suspicions were confirmed. Leadership had a history of asking for input and then stifling open and honest dialogue.

Another client recently went through a major restructuring. In the process, the company left employees in the dark by failing to communicate what was happening and why. By the time the client called Bright Side, it was facing a debilitating backlash.

Whether it’s leadership consistently disregarding (or failing to solicit) employee feedback or neglecting to communicate significant changes — the result is always the same: Employees end up feeling disrespected and devalued. Resentment simmers and eventually boils over.

Don’t misunderstand me. I know that not every decision can be subject to employee feedback. But, all too often, leadership loses sight of the organization’s most valued asset: its people. With a single-minded focus on the bottom line, leaders make the mistake of treating employees like automatons rather than people.

In the rush of getting the job done, leaders must remember these core truths: All people want to feel valued and respected for the work they do, to know that their contributions matter and to feel heard. When we overlook these principles, employees become disheartened, discouraged and disengaged. One way or another, the discontent manifests itself and everyone suffers.

The solution is to stay connected. Stay connected to your employees daily by cultivating honest person-to-person (rather than person-to-object) relationships, where respect and communication are the cornerstones. Demonstrate through your words and your actions that you value their work, that their input matters and that you believe in transparency. That doesn’t mean, of course, that you won’t at times make decisions that they don’t agree with. It means that the conversation will have happened — they’ll have spoken, you’ll have listened, and no one will be in the dark.

Create opportunities daily to demonstrate that employee feedback is valued. How? For starters, listen more and talk less. A good way to do that is to ask more questions. If you don’t like what you hear, don’t get defensive. A defensive reaction will only shut the conversation down and signal that you aren’t really interested in what others have to say. Instead, ask more questions to clarify and don’t take disagreement personally.

Intentionally seek out viewpoints that are different than your own. If you only talk to people who agree with you or tell you what you want to hear, then you’ll create a false sense of reality.

Lastly, be transparent. I can’t emphasize this enough. So many problems arise when leaders fail to be transparent in their decision-making. Don’t leave people guessing about important matters that impact them.

Resolve to actively practice these behaviors in meetings and routine interactions. Ask team members to follow suit. By doing so, you’ll demonstrate your willingness to learn and to be engaged. Morale will improve and you’ll head off unnecessary revolts and insurrections.

Donna Rae Smith is a guest blogger for Smart Business. She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company that has partnered with more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, please visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae Smith at donnarae@bright-side.com.