How to listen to your agents and incorporate them in the decision making process (without letting the inmates run the asylum!)

[uam_ad id="2797"]

Not a day goes by that employees don’t ask themselves, “Why are we doing this?” While many consider it insulting, I take a different approach. Rather than viewing it as a complaint from a disgruntled employee, I recognize it’s a suggestion from an engaged one. In many instances, they may be frustrated due to a perceived lack of involvement in the decision making process.

My time in the Navy taught me that good leadership trains personnel, accepts feedback, and incorporates their suggestions when feasible. This has served me well over the years and has led to many innovations and improvements along the way. True leadership defines a mission, motivates the team to achieve its goals and communicates effectively. A large part of this involves listening to your direct reports. These are great ways to solicit feedback:

1-on-1
Bi-monthly, I meet with each team member to give them time to speak to me. This time is dedicated to them and they control the agenda. Many great ideas and wonderful feedback is offered by them. It has proven to be one of the best methods of engagement and I think they look forward to it.

Suggestion Box
A suggestion box is a simple, easy way of soliciting feedback, garnering ideas, and gauging the tone of your team. Submissions can be anonymous if necessary.

Focus Group
For many years, I met with a team dubbed “Einstein”, whose sole purpose was to review how we operated, and seek ways to improve current process. This consisted of members from various teams, managers, leads, and frontline staff.

Involvement
When feedback is given, allow the employee to work with you. It gives them a sense of accomplishment to see their idea go form thought to practice. Also, it provides you with an ally. If they are invested, they can rally their fellow team members to buy in to project as well. It is very important to give proper credit. Not only do I involve team members, I let them take the lead at any presentations and constantly credit them with having the idea.

The above has worked for me very well. However, there are times when feedback and suggestions cannot be implemented. In that case, I propose collecting those ideas and revisiting them when the time is right. In my case, I have a spreadsheet titled ‘Brainstorm’. Periodically, I review it to determine if ideas can be researched and/or implemented, making certain to include the person who offered the suggestion.

Lastly, I am a firm proponent of top down refinement. I was first introduced to this concept of problem solving when I was served in the Navy. In simplest terms, it involves a high level project that is passed through the organizational structure from the top, to the lowest level. Each level provides feedback and input. All of this is then passed back up the chain.

This does several things. Primarily, it seeks input from everyone. Every opinion is valued which fosters inclusiveness and communication. Also, each level of the organization is aware of what is going on. No one is left in the dark, nor is anyone excluded. Information flows freely and everyone is made to feel part of the process.

As you can see, if given proper venues, employee suggestions can be a great change management tool. You never know what great idea is being withheld for lack of opportunity. Until you make an effort to find out, you will remain oblivious to the talent you are ignoring.

above photo source: Wikipedia, used under creative commons license