Introducing: The Workforce Institute Weigh-In

Introducing a new recurring feature on our blog: The Workforce Institute Weigh-In. Each month, we’ll pose a top-of-mind question from the world of HR and include several perspectives from our advisory board. These are meant to be succinct actionable insights you can start implementing at your organization today. In some cases, you’ll see full articles from board members discussing the topic in proceeding weeks.

The Workforce Institute Weigh-In for February 2022: “What are two ways companies can create a culture where employees feel safe speaking up, asking questions, and/or providing feedback?”

“Rather than focus on aggregate corporate culture, ask where in the organization this is a problem that is impacting business results, then look deeply at the individual cases to determine the root cause. Be careful about assuming speaking up and asking questions is the natural and correct way of being. There are many ‘good’ reasons why managers may not want employees to speak up, and we need to be open to understanding — not merely dismissing — those reasons.” — David Creelman, chief executive officer, Creelman Research

“First, start early by conducting candidate experience surveys. Not only does the organization make sure its strategy is on target but, when done right, it sends the message that the organization values employee feedback. Then, practice empathetic listening. This will help to reduce misunderstandings and create better connections.” — Sharlyn Lauby, author, HR Bartender blog

“Leaders should look at their new hybrid cultures as an opportunity to boost employees’ sense of belonging and take diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) efforts to the next level. Consult your employees — especially those in marginalized groups — before establishing new rituals to ensure they are as fair and inclusive as possible. Additionally, hybrid-workplace communication must be more frequent and purposeful, with employee-listening mechanisms built into the daily experience, so people can provide opinions and feedback on their needs and wishes. Scheduled digital messages and verbal check-ins are standard protocol top to bottom, but what about side to side (peer) and cross-functionally?” — Alexandra Levit, author, Humanity Works

“First, start with trusting your employees and train managers to trust their employees. Consider this sentiment from Aron Ain, the CEO of a well-respected worldwide company: ‘employees have to un-earn my trust.’ State clearly to employees that you trust them and also state the kinds of actions or events that will likely result in losing your trust. Second, develop managers in such a way that they communicate with their employees whenever they are on the pathway that will result in a loss of trust, unless the respective employee changes their path. Clearly state (to an employee) how to change the path in such a manner that will avoid the loss of trust. It is only from a position of mutual trust that we can expect employees to be open in their communications to management and each other, such as asking questions, making suggestions, or providing feedback.” — Dennis Miller, assistant vice president of HR and benefits administration, The Claremont Colleges

“Employers create a culture where employees feel safe giving feedback by 1) asking for it and 2) responding positively and transparently to it. Asking for feedback should begin from their first interview encounter with the company. Ask candidates about their experience: what went well, what could have been improved, whether or not the experience makes them more/less excited to work with the company. Within their first 30 days of work, ask about their onboarding and orientation experiences, as well as how the job is measuring up compared with what was shared during the interview process. Ask about their benefits, their compensation, the systems being used, the processes being followed, their managers, the coworkers — everything you can think of! Solicit their feedback as early and often as possible. Once you receive their feedback, respond to it. If you send out a survey, publish the results. If you ask an employee for their feedback, thank them. If your employees make suggestions, acknowledge them, especially when you use those suggestions as a factor in business decisions. If you cannot use their suggestions or take action on something they’ve requested, explain why the petition isn’t possible at the time (or ever). When we treat our employees like capable adults who contribute value to our organizations, they will feel the safety and support they need to behave as such.” — Sarah Morgan, chief excellence officer, BuzzARooney, LLC

“Vulnerability goes a long way in creating a culture where employees feel safe speaking up or asking awkward questions. For example, leaders shouldn’t be afraid to anticipate what’s on the mind of employees, go first, and ask and answer the tough questions that people are thinking. Technology can also aid in the creation of a culture where employees feel secure providing feedback. Using surveys and communicating the anonymity behind the questionnaire can be one way to ensure workers that employees’ psychological safety is a priority.” — Laurie Ruettimann, host, Punk Rock HR podcast