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According to Harvard Business Review, in early 2020, reports on Boeing revealed “an epidemic of side conversations about the 737 Max jetliner.” These conversations revealed employee concerns about the Max during its development and their issues with leadership decisions, the company in general, and even with customers.
The abundant side-talk highlighted in the report shows that these employees did not feel like they had a voice to express their concerns in the proper channels. Unfortunately, this fear of speaking out is a common problem within companies that can have dire consequences.
Too many side conversations can mean there is a growing distrust between employees and leadership and that employees are not giving valuable input during meetings. This breakdown in company culture can result in a loss of collaboration and company growth.
Here are some steps you can take to address this problem head-on and build a strong culture of communication.
In an article published by Harvard Business Journal, Amy C. Edmondson highlights three ways you can tell if your organization is plagued by an unhealthy degree of side conversation.
Taking note of these common signs is an excellent first step in addressing the side talk within your organization and creating a more collaborative company culture.
Encourage feedback at every opportunity and ensure employees feel safe enough to be honest. Many employees avoid speaking their minds to managers and employers because they fear retaliation. People in positions of authority should build relationships based on trust with their employees to eliminate such fears.
One way to build these relationships is by providing consistent feedback and encouragement from leadership to their employees. Regular performance reviews, at least twice per year, help employees know that their hard work is recognized and give them a chance to express their concerns.
Another way to build strong relationships with employees is to be transparent. According to the NeuroLeadership Institute, “transparency is the most significant predictor of employee happiness, and that leaders who practice transparency and positivity are seen as more trustworthy and more effective.” Transparency also helps establish an equitable work environment because employees understand why leadership makes decisions.
If you build trust and demonstrate your curiosity and willingness to listen, you will be surprised by the honest feedback your employees have to offer and the positive impact it has on your business.
When your business is going through changes or experiencing a negative work environment, allowing side-talk to takeover within disparate teams can cause irreparable damage. Instead, take control of the message and communicate from the start to prevent growing distrust.
Edmondson suggests you “set the stage” and tackle tensions and challenges head-on. Address the company goals while also emphasizing employee “psychological safety.” By addressing issues immediately and considering employee health, you may regain trust and maintain control of the conversation.
You might also “insist on input,” as Edmondson puts it. You don’t want your subject matter experts to remain silent, so call on them to hear their thoughts and ask them questions directly. Garnering feedback in this way demonstrates that you value employee input while also directing the conversation toward solutions.
If employees have expressed concerns in the past to no avail, they aren’t likely to speak up when new issues arise. Therefore, if you want to encourage continued communication and feedback, it is essential to show that the people in charge are listening and willing to act.
Edmondson recommends employers “appreciate messengers” by responding “productively” when getting negative feedback or hearing bad news. It takes a lot of courage to speak up, and it is most beneficial to respond with solutions — “Invite ideas and look for volunteers to team up to help solve the problems raised.”
Taking the steps outlined in this blog post can help ensure you get the most engagement from your employees. The most important step you can take is to build trust among your employees: trust in management, HR, owners, and leadership in general. Once everyone feels safe to communicate and provide feedback openly, your business is sure to thrive.
Proliant puts the human in human resources. We provide a fully integrated, cloud-based HCM solution that simplifies payroll and HR processes. The company serves small to large clients in multiple industries in all 50 states and is committed to providing the highest quality customer service in the industry.