A few weeks ago, I listened to the “Dare to Lead” podcast by Brené Brown,” and it elevated me to write my thoughts on developing courage in the workplace.
Before getting started, you might ask…Why should we listen to you, Behtash?
I spent most of my work leading teams of all sizes, national and offshore, and leading projects to completion. My passion…other than the unfortunate times I like to give long speeches (as you can see in my blogs), is to coach and transfer information. I find success in knowing that my team succeeds in all their missions. Part of this is listening and establishing trust, communicating effectively, and ensuring that the person they look up to is not here to tell them what to do but encourage them to lead in their paths. Usually, that means finding alignment between solutions and the company objectives. This article is merely my thoughts on the subject.
Leadership is such a young subject. It is well defined but still not openly discussed everywhere the proper way. Leadership thought in school or in books is theoretical, primarily the information that may or may not be applicable in real-life scenarios. There have been times in my career that I chose to disappoint a few to satisfy many. What matters, in the end, is to constantly learn and challenge ourselves as leaders to grow and be better. That is why leadership is such a fascinating subject.
Now…back to our article…
Let’s go over some data related to employee engagement in the workplace:
- A highly engaged workforce can lead to an increase in profitability.
- Employee Disengagement can cost the U.S. economy around $450-$500B per year.
- Only 16% of the companies use technology to monitor employee engagement.
- Studies show that while companies look for new ideas, 82% of the staff members had some idea that could positively impact the end goal.
- The same study shows that only 3rd of the staffers believe their company listens to them.
- Only 36% of the employees are engaged in the workplace.
- And…85% of the employees experience high motivation when they find internal communications effective.
Listening to employees is super important. We know the importance of listening to our customers. Sometimes it is difficult to understand the direct and indirect impact that neglecting employees has on growth. Despite that, companies that thrive on corporate culture are the ones that see quadruple growth.
Study shows that 96% of unhappy customers don’t complain about their dissatisfaction. They simply stop doing business with you. The same is valid with employees. They don’t voice out their concerns until it is too late. And employee retention is a huge deal…it can result in loss of great talent, recruitment, training costs, and indirect cost of slowing down production because of the learning curve or recruitment challenges, especially in 2022, when growth in remote job offerings increased by 135% and there are more job openings than qualified workers.
While recruiting in 2022 is a crucial subject, I want to focus this article solely on the importance of listening to the employees, leading with courage, and inspiring employees to have boldness in the organization.
Oxford dictionary defines courage as the ability to do something that frightens one. It is essential to help employees communicate their thoughts with the leaders; otherwise, the value of conversation diminishes, and leaders surround themselves with the yea-sayers that are not encouraged to bring forth the entirety of their value to the discussions but only to survive the day.
In marketing, you establish trust by communicating with your customers, users on your website, and audiences engaging with your brands or talking about your brands. Each one of those conversations is an opportunity to engage and establish trust. Same with establishing trust in the workplace.
This topic has been developing more attention since the beginning of the current pandemic in 2020. The maximum gains from establishing trust, just like consumer communication, is to gain advocacy, loyalty, increased engagement, and commitment to work. Workplaces that brew unreliability and disengagement result in less productivity and success, and employees feel it all. It creates a negative and very stressful environment for everyone.
So, what do you do as an employee? Probably decide to withhold your energy and passion. This, in return, impacts productivity and innovation, both of which will affect the bottom-line competitive edge and long-term sustainability of the company.
On the other hand, trust enhances
- Organizational alignment
- Efficiency, engagement, and productivity
- Lowers the resistance to change
- Improves creativity and innovation
So how do you establish trust?
- Encourage employees to share their voice (courage leadership)
- Creating better company culture with transparency and employee communication
- Sharing critical information with employees from every level
- Encourage peer-to-peer engagement and communication
- Authenticity in leadership voice
- Creating purpose and learning opportunities
- Encourage change management and digital transformation
Listening to Employees is Important
There is listening…AND THEN THERE IS HEARING. What do I mean by that? A year ago, I attended a tech conference with a couple of individuals I mentored professionally and developed a friendship with later. After the conference, we went out to dine and began discussions about the meeting, which led to conversations about technology and somehow ended with a discussion about work.
During the last couple of years, the employment culture shifted, and the stress of the pandemic was putting pressure on both employees and managers. During the shift, it was necessary (probably more than ever) for the managers and leaders to employ empathy, listen and make sure that their team had everything they needed to feel comfortable.
My friend began talking about his company and his managers. With the help of a consultant, managers at this company decided to deploy surveys to the employees. The usual questions included:
- Identifying the problems.
- Gauging the level of comfort for the employees at every level and position.
- Getting an overall assessment of employee satisfaction.
The survey was done anonymously, and the system provided a way for the managers to respond to the comments without speaking to the employee directly.
All sound relatively standard, right? But, survey results didn’t go as expected. Turnover went even higher, and the level of trust in the leadership went lower than before. So, what caused all that? I asked my friend if it would be ok to share some of the results with me, and I was shocked by the communication. Finally, I could create a clear line between the action and the consequence through clear causation.
Basically, without sharing too much information, the leaders responded to every problem with, “We hear you…but it is all your fault, and you should just change and try to be happy at work.”
What happened here? The leaders set up the proper communication channel but failed to respond. Worse than having an idea box that nobody ever opens. Communication lost both its value and opportunity for improvement. It ultimately diminished the trust employees had in the leadership that ended with walkouts. The question here is, if it was their customers, would the response be the same? Would the business model of ignorance be sustainable?
I said at the very beginning. Employees that feel heard engage more and produce more. Surveys are effective only if the employees trust to be sharing their concerns with you. In that case, engagement surveys can measure how much employees are invested within their companies. And surveys can be done routinely to analyze progress.
However, it doesn’t end with surveys. We can’t just check the box and move along. The critical step after the survey is to listen without bias. It is not about how you are failing them as a person, but how you can improve for them in the future. Not to sound cliche, but it’s business and never personal. Companies involve individuals from different cultures, different thoughts and values, and different wants and needs. What you might deem as a success might not necessarily be for another person. Truly hearing, investing in your team, addressing problems head-on, creating definite timelines, and encouraging staff members to bring forth their ideas are very important.
Give the people the means to voice their opinions and give them the tools to fix the problem. We should not tell them how to do their job but trust them to use their expertise to fix it themselves. Our role is not always to be a problem solver but to sometimes choose to jump in with a certain level of empathy and be a supportive current to point them in the right direction. Ask for their inputs and ideas and be interested in allowing them to turn them into actionable tasks.
Listening doesn’t mean sitting still and taking notes and nodding in agreement occasionally. It’s about proactively being in search of new ideas, opinions, and concerns. Involve your employees in the conversation, and when they tell you, do not flat out reject them. Instead, go through the idea process, and raise them to lead.
Turn concerns, problems, and their solutions into actionable items with hard deadlines:
- Here is how your workload will be improved
- Here is how you are aligned with our mission and vision
- Here is how you can experience growth in your position
- Here is how we can improve the processes so you can feel more successful in your position
Recognize them for what they have brought forth to the table. A minor form of Kudos goes a long way. It is not always about extrinsic benefits (money, promotion, raises, etc.) Often, employees engage in intrinsic values. When they feel successful and appreciated, they perform better, and they will do more for the company. I keep on showing the value-added for the company so that hopefully, it resonates with performance and profitability, but it is about human values.
Employees are spending 8 – 12 hours a day on the job. That is more time they spend in the company than with their own families. Shouldn’t we do the best we can to make things more comfortable for them?
Establishing trust in the workplace has become more prominent over the years. In this article, we went over building trust and truly hearing your employees. In the final part of courage in the workplace, we will focus on courage leadership and building courage in managers and leaders of the company and the importance for the company.