Breaking the Silence: How to Create a Culture of Voice
On October 17, 2019, an informative packed monthly meeting presented by corporate governance specialist Royanne Doi, spelled out specific approaches from a manager’s perspective to encourage communication from employees.
By Keri Cromb
A culture of silence, as opposed to a culture of voice, can be misleading as non-communication is far too often interpreted as employee approval or agreement. Royanne further explained that the major reason for employees not speaking up is the fear of retaliation while other minor ones range from company non-responsiveness to employees not wanting to get involved. These reasons combined create a blind spot around the fact that front line employees know most, if not all of the problems hindering the company or organization. Even subtle behaviors and good intentional phrases could actually trigger the opposite desired reaction from employees.
This criticism of the culture of silence should be convincing managers to take serious reins on some very practical communication approaches to encourage employee engagement in communication and idea generation. Royanne emphasized that managers who recognize half baked ideas presented by employees will eventually be rewarded. Those are the very ideas that often turn out to be the best ones.
Royanne went on to illustrate a simple but excellent activity to measure employees’ willingness to participate in relaying their ideas, insights or even just getting involved. She asked FEW attendees to raise their left hands. Most of the arms were raised halfway. It was pointed out that there is a difference between hands raised half way and hands raised completely straight over the head. The keyword was “effort.” To exert that energy so that the hand is high over the head should correspond to the effort employees are making to communicate ideas or connect and be involved further. It indicates employees have confidence in the communication channels and managers should aim for this confidence. Without a culture of voice, most likely there will be a costly high turnover in employees under a manager. This means the employees can feel valued somewhere else.
The microphone was passed around to all attendees to say a line or two about the best manager they had to work with. Most answers seemed to lead to approachability, respect, and feeling valued as a person with goals and ideas. No one mentioned they liked criticism or the feeling that the manager was too distant from employees locked away in the status of their managerial title.
To cultivate a more productive and open communication environment, managers need to sometimes take the backseat. When asking a question to a group of employees, Royanne recommended giving a 45 second time period to allow and encourage employees to take the initiative to share their thoughts first. Managers should express their ideas last while building on what was previously presented. If there is a mutual feeling of shared ownership and contribution of ideas to the meeting, then there is greater productivity. This is one of many effective recommendations Royanne impressively shared during the session and without a doubt requires one to be more conscious and habitual in applying them.
For myself, the greatest take away was this 45 seconds guidance and realizing it is not just limited to those in managerial roles. In all aspects of our lives, we lead micro teams whether it is with our family, community, those embarking to do a startup business or pursue career advancement. To cultivate those half baked ideas with brilliant potential, we have to recognize the very people contributing to them. 45 seconds of waiting to say that you are eager to listen and value key players without misinterpreted criticism is all that is needed to keep the very best people investing their time with you.
FEW wants to thank speaker Royanne Doi and Tiny Peace Kitchen for this enriching monthly meeting.