When employees are encouraged to share their expertise and bring up concerns and problems, organizations enjoy not only market success and innovation but are also positioned as employers of choice worldwide – attracting the best talent around the world. Employees close to the frontline are likely to have good ideas that can improve managerial decision making. In Creating a Culture Where Employees Speak Up, Sylvia Ann Hewlett highlights the fact that in “publicly traded companies with acquired appreciation for difference based on experience and learning—employees are 70% more likely than those at non-diverse publicly traded companies to report having captured a new market in the last year and 45% more likely to report having grown market share”.
Yet, leaders do not always promote employees’ ideas. In fact, top-down decision-making processes reinforce the message that those in the bottom are incapable of contributing to the long-term strategy of the company. Most of the changes that employees propose get lost in a tedious central approving process at the headquarters, thereby increasing the distance between the real challenges of the business and the decisions taken to tackle those challenges. As a result, employees are not confident that their ideas to improve the business will be heard and recognized.
Despite all the economics, long term and employee engagement benefits of encouraging employees to share their expertise, a scant 1 percent of employees feel extremely confident to voice their concerns in the workplace at critical moments according to a study by VitalSmarts.
A paradox therefore arises: why managers ignore employees’ ideas when there is are proven business benefit from it?
Academic research on the topic suggests two alternative explanations. On the one hand, it assumes that managers are frequently stuck in their own ways of working and identify so strongly with the status quo that they are fearful of listening to contrary input from below. On the other hand, managers often fail to create speak-up cultures because their organizations put them in impossible positions. A recent Harvard Business Review article from Elad N. Sherf suggests that “managers are not empowered to act on input from below, and they feel compelled to adopt a short-term outlook to work. They experience centralized decision structures, in which authority lies at the top of the hierarchy, and they are merely “go-betweens.” And even when they are empowered to act, they still confront demands to show success in the short-term rather than look out for longer-term sustainability.”
Employees are therefore stuck in what is called a “contradictory-class location”. They have more knowledge than senior managers about what is working and what is not when it comes to customer experience, stock flow and day-to-day operations but cannot contribute to the decision-making process that will ultimately affect them.
Using networks is key to future-proofing the decision-making process by leveraging collective intelligence. Elqano provides a platform of interactive Q&A interactions where the most knowledgeable employees in the organisation can provide their expertise, wherever they are located geographycally and in the hierarchy. Take the example of Claire who is working as a Sales Representative in a shop. Without a support framework, she feels discourage to escalate any issue in the workflow since the decision making process is centralized and long and faces pressure to achieve short term sales targets for the shop. Now imagine that Claire has access to Elqano, she is then able to comment on any question asked by managers, showing instantly her expertise and contributing to the long-term sustainability of the company. In return, she feels recognized as other employees can “like” and comment on her contributions. Elqano opens opportunities for employees to express their expertise, creativity and innovate within their teams and the organization, thereby ensuring benefits in the long term.
Studies have shown that when managers work in an environment where employees have low autonomy to provide their expertise and ideas, they are less “likely to encourage their employee to speak up and provide input. In fact, these participants indicated that they would allocate 25% less time to discuss work issues with their employees compared with those in the high autonomy condition”. Instead of blaming employees for not sharing their opinions, organizations need to ask themselves whether they have in place a culture that promotes ideas and inputs from employees. It appears unreasonable to ask employees to solicit and encourage ideas when the decision-making process is tedious and centralized, and they feel their opinions are disregarded.
In If Your Employees Aren’t Speaking Up, Blame Your Company Culture, Hermant Kakkar and Subra Tangirala state that “when employees feel comfortable candidly voicing their opinions, suggestions, or concerns, organizations become better at handling threats as well as opportunities.” Elqano fosters a speak-up culture by ensuring that every employee gets heard and continually asking for contributions from experts in any subject. Q&A interactions guarantee actionable feedbacks since comments and like features are immediate and concrete. It allows managers to ask for input on their decisions and behaviors and then act on it. The result: empowered employees and transparent and complete information leading to business success.
Curious to see how Elqano can encourage your employees to “speak-up”? Let me know in the comments below!