Best Ways to Make Employees Speak Out
In this imaginary incident, we have Jane who recently started her own company. In the first few weeks, Jane was engaged in acclimatizing to the work atmosphere and setting her priorities. This kept her away from interacting with her employees.
Yesterday, Jane delivered a presentation to them, a presentation she had been looking forward to for weeks and worked hard for. From the facial expressions of her employees, she could gauge that she was doing a good job.
So when she reached the end of her presentation and opened the floor for questions, it was only natural for her to expect a few to be tossed her way. But what happened instead was that a deadly silence covered the room.
Turns out, despite her best intentions, Jane was unable to create a space safe enough for her employees to participate. On the bright side, here are some ways using which Jane (and others like her in leadership positions) can turn tables and make her employees speak up:
1.Set Clear Expectations
Right at the start of any meeting, let your employees know that you would like the meeting to be participative and interactive. And that you do not want this to be a one-sided engagement. You want to listen to what they have to offer, and not just lay out what you’ve got to say.
2.Avoid Talking About Too Many Topics
An important responsibility of a leader is to ensure that every topic is given the time and attention it deserves from the team. The reason that many leaders are not able to live up to this responsibility is that they consider disseminating information more important. So they keep jumping from one topic to another.
This prevents any topic from sinking into the minds of the employees so that they can later formulate questions and comments. So rather than trying to cover everything, pick two topics of importance, and discuss them in-depth.
It takes time to gather what one has learned, analyze it, and ask questions or give feedback with regard to the same. Make sure you provide your employees with such time, and not use ninety percent of it to put your stance forward.
You could also pose a question instead of asking them to come up with the same. The rationale being that due to the hierarchical nature of most companies, it can seem problematic for an employee to pose questions to someone above them in the ladder. But when you do it, they can find some validation in your words if they had a similar question and can feel encouraged to speak up.
4.Set Up a Focus Group
With the help of your HR, set up a focus group where employees can share obstacles they face when it comes to participating. Some challenges can be generalized across the group while others can be unique to a participant. A focus group provides the space for both these kinds of challenges to be expressed.
Some of your employees might have genuine social anxiety and would prefer not to speak up. For such individuals, instead of forcing them to talk in public, you can switch to online modes where they can express their say without having to feel anxious. These modes could include polls and surveys. If access to technology is a limitation, have chits passed around in which employees can write what they wish to and remain anonymous, at the end of the day.
For employees to even want to speak up, it is important for them to first know that the person on the receiving end of their communication is approachable.
To become this person, go beyond data and figures and take interest in the experiences of your employees. So the next time you are in a meeting, ask participants questions like, “What was your experience listening to the voices in this room?”, “What were your takeaways from today’s meeting?” and, “Is there something we could have done better?”.
Once they see you coming from a place of wanting to understand them better, they are more likely to talk to you. Make sure you feel genuine when asking these questions. Otherwise, your ingenuity might be leaked by your non-verbals.
7.Encourage Small Groups
An individual spotlight can make many nervous. To help individuals facing such an issue, you can divide the group into smaller ones. Inside this small group, the pressure on each member to speak in front of a large group reduces, and they are then encouraged to speak up. Once the discussion is over, one member of the group can summarize its findings.
8.Engage Outside Formal Settings
Interact with your employees outside meetings, in informal settings. This will help them feel more relaxed and comfortable around you. Ask questions like “What are you currently working on?”, “How are you feeling today?” and “Is there something I can help you with?” Be available to them at a humane level.
Lastly, remember that building and sustaining a safe space inside a company takes time and consistent efforts. Even though there are many ways leading to this goal, each way will take its own time to be traveled. So make sure to stay patient.