Managers pride themselves on being in the know. What the upcoming changes are going to be. Who is really behind the initiative. Who is moving up and who is moving out. Ironically, they are not in the know in the most important area of work life—what their employees really think.
Let’s get one thing straight. Your employees want to please you. They want you to like them and consider them for raises and promotions. Their livelihood depends on you.
As a Target executive recently declared “I have 250 families that depend on me.” That is true—as an executive people are depending on you to do a good job and make their lives positive. Yet, the reality is that since that is true, you cannot depend on them. You cannot depend on them to tell you what’s working, who is a problem, and what you need to do to transform results. They won’t tell you because they depend on you thinking well of them.
Some of our recent research paints a shocking picture. When a leader was considered by their employees to be overcritical, over controlling, and going behind employees backs, employees by and large do not speak up. Even if the situation was so bad that it reduced team productivity, someone on their team left their job because of it, or it affected their stress OUTSIDE of work—only 43% spoke up. Only 36% dared to tell human resources about the problem.
Unfortunately, I see this every month. The grapevine knows there is a problem. Human Resources knows. The level above the problem knows. But no one will say anything on the record. It is only when faced with the hope of real change or the fear of dismissal that the truth will come to light. This is not new. This is the story of the human condition. It is an old story. In fact the oldest story in our Judeo-Christian culture, from 5,700 years ago, tells of Adam, the first person, when confronted by his creator about breaking the rules and eating what he shouldn’t have, he couldn’t tell the full truth—he blamed Eve. And Eve of course blamed the serpent. And on and on the BS goes.
Your only choice is to use this BS detector: if the answer your employee gives is what you want to hear, it is BS. How is it going? “Good!” – BS. How is Miranda (the person you think is not a team player) doing in the project? “She is a troublemaker.” – BS How satisfied are you with your job “I like my job” – BS.
Not only will employees tell you what you want to hear, but you will go to whoever you know will give you the answer you want. It is human nature to collect data that supports what you want to believe.
It is only the truly courageous who seeks out answers that negate their beliefs. If you want to change the culture, that is what you must do. Seek out opposing views.
When BS is thrown in your face, ask gently again in a different way. Continue your pursuit of an opposing view with the same vigor that you search for acceptance and confirmation that you are right. Applaud every instance of bad news. Listen very closely when you hear even the slightest hint of disagreement, and dive into it. It is only through the consistent search for the ugly and uncomfortable that you can begin to change the culture of your team from a culture of making you happy to a culture of making things happen.