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Keep your views to yourself and expect no change

In the realm of employee engagement, the mantra has long been about fostering open dialogue and listening to staff.
Keep your views to yourself is not the accepted stance on employee engagement. Just like the other bloggers, management consultants and ex directors I have been known to lecture managers on the importance and positive impact of employee engagement, opening up debate not closing it down, listening to staff whether in forums, employee surveys or exit interviews. So why do I think some people should keep their opinions to their self.
Sometimes management particularly senior management are accused of not listening because they don’t want to hear unwelcome or inconvenient news, don’t want to be challenged by someone else’s experience or they are simply to arrogant to consider anyone else’s views might be worth listening to.
Management can be dismissive of employee views as in ,” they would say that wouldn’t they” usually in acknowledgment that there is opposition to anything that not be advantageous to employees like changes to the bonus system, new working practices, or tighter absence management procedures.
The received wisdom is that organisations that engage with their workforce are more effective, employees are more motivated, innovation is more likely and decisions are more likely to work in practice.
However listening to employees doesn’t just result in good suggestions, realistic appraisals of performance , a more content workforce  and improved productivity from happy smiley staff. There is a reason why some managers refer to moaning sessions and cynicism. Why HR may counsel against opening a can of worms. Why some topics like EDI need to be approached with care, confidence and credibility.
In an exit interview you can tell yourself this is just a disgruntled individual who is using the opportunity to settle a few scores, the employees’ survey negativity can be explained in-terms of the short term impact of unpopular changes but faced to face with a group of employees encouraged to tell you what they really think!
One area manager decided that office moral could be improved by a clear the air monthly open meeting with all employees who worked there. It didn’t go well. It became a moaning session, senior management were remote, out of touch and didn’t know what they were doing, admin complained about social workers, who complained about IT and everyone complained about the cleaners. The cleaners weren’t present but they had plenty of complaints about the state the office and staff kitchen were left in.
If you ask people what’s wrong you can’t complain if they tell you in great detail.
Employee forums like other meetings need structure and  an agenda. Engaging employees in changes requires trying to establish some consensus and less talking more listening from senior managers. So after a brief introduction the senior manager needs to set people a task to generate discussion and feedback. This is often archived by dividing people into small groups and asking them to come up with their top three Achievements, Challenges and Obstacles. Each group then feeds back to the larger group allowing the senior manager to ask for clarification and identify a common agenda.
I think most managers would feel confident and comfortable with this approach the exception seems to be when it comes to issues around EDI. Encouraging employees to say what they are really thinking especially if you have established this is a safe place to express their views and opinions puts the emphases on the manager to challenging myths and stereotypes, to explain recruitment targets, why there is a need for a Black Workers Support Group, why some groups get , “ special treatment”.
These are legitimate questions to ask in helping people understand the organisations approach to EDI but are we sure senior managers are equipped to answer these questions and even more important are we sure all managers are on board. I have found a very useful tool is for HR in discussion with managers to draw up a list of Frequently Asked Questions with model answers which managers can refer to.
This is the difference, an organisation needs to learn from employees the obstacles they experience or anticipate in implementing changes and discuss how they might get round these obstacles. Senior management is not asking for employee approval to go ahead with these changes although they should recognise the need to explain the rational behind the changes. In the case of EDI the aim is to make a reality of the organisations values and these are not up for debate. Therefore  the message is, If you don’t agree with these values then keep your opinions to yourself.

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