Getting input from team members is usually helpful. When giving feedback requires ownership and accountability, it can be indispensable.
In an effort to get meaningful input, leaders often feel the need to “protect” employees by offering them anonymity. Doing so may increase participation but it simultaneously reduces accountability. There’s a better way.
Recently, I visited a fast-growing company where executive leaders shared their strategies for working effectively with one of their most important stakeholder groups: their employees.
The level of importance they place on their team members goes well beyond perfunctory phrases or posters placed around the facility. Their commitment to the professional development and the personal well-being of their employees sets a standard worthy of emulating by even the most successful enterprises. Suffice to say, there is more to this than placing a suggestion box in the break room.
Among the many creative strategies they employ, three stood out. First, all senior executives are assigned several employees to mentor, coach and develop. These may not be their direct reports; rather, they are likely from different parts of the organization. And mentorship doesn’t take on a casual meaning here. There is a structured process in place to ensure that the coaching these team members receive is meaningful and effective. These senior leaders meet frequently to compare notes, share ideas, and focus on the progress they are seeing with the team members they are working with. This is part of the continuous skill development that each mentor receives. To say they take this assignment seriously is a considerable understatement.
From the employee’s point of view, this process goes beyond what many of them expected when they signed on. Imagine being early in your career and having a senior executive, not your manager or supervisor, provide coaching and mentoring focused on your short and long-term career objectives.
Second, all senior executives are expected to create a personal mission statement. In my experience, few exercises are more compelling and more widely ignored. Not unlike organizational mission statements, these help individuals identify ways in which they can leverage their unique strengths in a positive direction. These statements are then shared with and among the leadership group. The impact is compelling and goes a long way in helping to create a unified senior team. While this process is recommended but not required for all team members, having senior leaders go through process prepares them to assist any employee interested in creating their own personal mission statement.
The third addresses the issue of employee feedback. From time to time, the organization will send out brief surveys (no more than five questions). While many companies survey their employees, here’s what makes this approach unique and valuable. The surveys are confidential, but they are never anonymous. Employees are required to put their name on the quick response survey. And they do!
I often hear from business leaders who lament poor participation in employee surveys (that can be an indicator of low morale). They insist that team members be offered the opportunity to answer without putting their name on it. After all, if they are required to own their responses, they won’t be honest. Guess what. That’s the problem!
It doesn’t require much in the way of courage to offer a complaint, criticism or condemnation of a co-worker, supervisor of organizational leader under the cloak of anonymity. Evidence of this is frequently found during (and after) staff meetings. Issues and ideas are presented, discussed, and ultimately decided on. Consensus has been reached and the team is fully supportive of the initiative. Meeting adjourned. Then, inevitably, the real meeting begins. That one takes place in smaller groups or one on one where team members offer concerns, criticisms, and every reason why the initiative they just ‘approved” will not work.
Building a culture of accountability at all levels requires that communication be honest and direct. If retribution for candor is a concern, there is a systemic organizational problem the answer to which goes well beyond a survey.
For more information on building a corporate culture of accountability, contact me at email@example.com.