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Got a Problem with the Organization? Speak Up!!

By Steve Radick posted Jun 27, 2010 1:42 AM

  

Observation: People at large organizations tend to be like the passive-aggressive person who complains and complains about you about your mutual friends but will never actually have a conversation with you about what’s bothering him/her. 

I’ve seen this behavior many times - from when I was a Resident Assistant in college ("Kelli is driving me NUTS - she keeps eating all my food!" "Well, did you talk to her about it?" "Noooo...I couldn't do that!!") to my current career as a consultant ("I can't believe I'm not being reimbursed for my commuting costs!" "I did everything that was asked of me and I still didn't get promoted!").  The thing that's just crazy to me is that, when asked if they've voiced these concerns to their manager or given their feedback via any number of feedback mechanisms, talked with their manager, called HR, etc., the answer is almost always, “well, no, but…”

The good news is that with so many organizations implementing Enterprise 2.0 platforms, there's theoretically a place where these individuals can go and provide their feedback in a non-confrontational way.  They can post a message to a forum, blog about it, participate in a live chat - there's now more ways than ever to tell "the man" how to fix things around here! 

The bad news is that no one cares.  That's because this is and never has been, about giving people the right technology to use. 

  • The anonymous HR phone lines were supposed to solve this problem.  They didn't.
  • The "Contact the Director" email forms were supposed to make it easy to give feedback to the boss.  They're still there on your Intranet site, not being used.
  • The "Feedback@yourorganization.com" email boxes were supposed to help.  They didn't.
  • Senior leadership blogs are the new tactic being used at organizations across the organization.  They won't work either.

Now, I've seen plenty of email forms, email boxes, and blogs work just fine, but I've seen many more fail miserably.  That's because giving constructive feedback to superiors has, for a long time, been seen as a "career-limiting move" in too many organizations.  One colleague of mine even told me that writing this blog post was irresponsible because people would take my advice and get fired because of it.  Has corporate America become such a police-state that honest conversation has become taboo? 

Do we all really work in a "shut up and do what I tell you" kind of environment? 

Of course not - why do you think the senior leadership is always sending out surveys, putting up email addresses, writing blogs, participating in live chats, etc.?  They want to hear what you have to say.  They're begging you to talk with them.  The most senior people at many organizations have never been more accessible than they are now - this is the new "managing while walking around." 

The problem is that people still aren't talking.  Forums get one reply.  Blog posts get three comments and two consist of one word - "Thanks!"  Fear of retribution, fear of getting fired, fear of making a "career limiting" move is still too great.  Before you can expect some great dialogue about your organization on some Enterprise 2.0 platform, these fears need to be addressed, mitigated, and proven wrong.  Leaders should take the following steps to help mitigate this fear:

  • Incentivize - publicly reward people who have the guts to come forward and post some constructive feedback, even if it's a little rough around the edges
  • Get a thick skin - you can't take negative comments personally. Employees have to view this as a safe place, and one "know your role" comment could poison the environment forever
  • Respond to everyone - show them that you actually care what they think, and that this isn't just some PR move
  • Ask questions - teach them what you want to hear. If people are just complaining about things, ask them for ideas on how to fix it too. 
  • Be judicious - know when and where to take the conversation off the platform and into more private communication
  • Do something - show people that actions are actually resulting from the feedback and conversations that are occurring
  • Talk about what you did - make sure that you tell people that some action was taken and what it was

The time to call attention to opportunities for improvement, to get your ideas heard, to ask a question has never been better.  Employees can use these blogs, forums, wikis, live chats, and other Enterprise 2.0 tools to tell everyone why the new coffee in the breakroom sucks, to bring up that idea to install a bike rack in the parking lot, to ask why the tuition reimbursement policy hasn't changed even though tuition has gone through the roof. 

Whatever you do, just don’t say that no one ever asked you what you thought or you didn’t have an opportunity to give your opinion. 

*Image courtesy of Flickr User youngthousands

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