Have you ever worked in an organization where the executives believed “silence is golden”? Leaders bearing this attitude want to hear that all is well. Their message to employees is that they don’t want to know about problems.
A sign that said “Only Good News” was reportedly posted on a conference room doorway in the office of a Facebook senior executive. Do you really think that employees felt safe and welcomed in reporting problems to this executive? Probably not.
Such written, oral or implied communiques send the message that leaders don’t want their days to be burdened with employees who talk about what is wrong in the workplace. They may even have a predisposition to tag individuals who report problems as nay-sayers or troublemakers.
While on the surface one might think that complaint-free days are to be coveted, from the perspective of proactive risk mitigation, such convictions border on being reckless because they discourage transparency in the workplace.
Corporate America is overflowing with companies that have unhealthy cultures in which limited, if any, feedback is provided to leadership regarding opportunities for improvement.
A trend is now emerging where executives and boards are realizing that culture can no longer be perceived as “soft stuff”. Research has proven that healthy cultures with free-flowing feedback to and from leaders actually correlate with stronger bottom lines and highly engaged employees. This winning combination can be instrumental in strengthening the muscle required for organizational risk mitigation.
Let’s face it. As leaders, we can only fix what’s broken if we know about it. As opposed to thinking that silence is golden, the savviest leaders embrace the philosophy that transparent feedback is not only to be liberally encouraged, but it is also to be celebrated.
Action from the top
For years, I have purposefully asked employees and physicians to share one thing we should change to improve the workplace experience as well as the customers’ experiences. We told them we could only fix what was broken if we knew about it. Because they had the best view of reality in the workplace, we shared openly that we needed and valued their expert, transparent opinions about what was broken.
Talk without action can be counterproductive. As such, we made it our practice to follow through by communicating what we had done to address the prevailing issues. We were careful to thank them for their feedback and to reinforce we would warmly welcome their sharing additional concerns.
While all employees should theoretically own organizational risk mitigation, the tone clearly must be set at the top. It is the leader’s responsibility to create a culture in which employees feel safe to speak up. As good as your organization may be, there will always be opportunities for improvement.
You can make a significant difference in teaching your employees to join in efforts to mitigate organizational risk. Start today by empowering your staff and praising them when they share feedback regarding vulnerabilities and other concerns within the workplace.
Janet Meeks is co-founder and CEO of Healthcare Alignment Advisors LLC. With 40 years of experience in finance and health care along with extensive service in the boardroom, Janet is a sought-after adviser to CEOs and other C-suite executives across a variety of industries. She is also the author of the book “Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before,” which was released in early 2018.