Editor's Note: This column originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of The PCB Magazine.
One thing that is certain about every employee in your business is that he or she has opinions, problems, good ideas and conflicts with other employees; every employee also has a boss and needs a strategy to deal with just about every other aspect of the business. Another certainty is that most employees are never really heard by the leadership of the company. This gap of truthful communication can keep your company from being great--or even good. Often, leadership will claim they are listening, but employees may feel that their leaders really only hear what they want to hear. The problem with the truth is that it sometimes hurts and we know it, so we avoid it.
If only we could get to the truth without all of the emotional pain and baggage that comes along with it.
And what is the truth? Often, it’s that employees feel like co-workers are not doing a good job, or there are inefficiencies, or the boss is an asshole and that there are no real plans, teams direction or communication. Other times, the complaint is that the plans, direction or communication is all wrong, or there’s no training and the bosses don’t care or the tools need upgrading, and on and on it goes.
Bottom line: Employees need to be heard and listened to, even when their leaders may not want to hear it.
These truths are not something you learn from a suggestion box or water cooler gossip. In fact, the truth has to be something that is carefully learned because there tends to be a lot of emotion tied to it. The fact that people often feel like they are not heard or cared about increases the emotional intensity around any issue. This energy can become explosive and in that moment of intensity, people might yell, withdraw, lose respect for leadership or just leave their jobs all together. It really is a tough way to manage a business. Many business leaders are fine with the old adage of “my way or the highway,” but these people tend to struggle in running a truly successful business.
If you want a fear-based work environment marked by intimidation, a “my way or the highway” management style is fine. On the other hand, this old-school way of doing things simply won’t work if you want a company filled with caring, compassionate people who contribute to the wellbeing of the company and are truly happy. This is not to say that the leadership does not set the vision of the company; and, a strong vision is necessary. President John F. Kennedy shared a strong vision when he said that we were going to put a man on the moon. The vision was clear and everyone knew exactly what the direction was. The vision was also magnetic and exciting. It was something of which people really wanted to be a part.
Granted not all visions can be compared to going to the moon, but your vision can be compelling. Once you have shared it and people really get excited, your company begins to gain a reputation for being a great place to work and employment there becomes coveted. People long for a great place to work that offers an environment that is safe for them to be truthful and happy. Such a place helps people want to do a good job and helps the company reach its goals in a positive, loving way. These companies are typically the leaders in their industry and the world. Conversely, imagine if your company had the reputation of employees being so dissatisfied that they wanted to commit suicide. That is clearly a worst-case scenario, but there are companies out there like this—they do exist.