We live in an online world where anything inside an organisation can find itself thrown into the public arena and onto the world stage. One tweet by a long-suffering employee or a fellow employee, no longer wishing to be part of a problem situation, and the organisation becomes the latest victim of our cancel culture.
Is it then timely to “reset” our attitudes and mindsets to employee feedback? Time to move beyond regulatory compliance to a proactive orientation that actively builds the inclusive cultures needed to manage risk in a dynamic digital environment?
Using evidenced-based research, leaders can design for the behaviours they need to support a “speak up culture.”
Where do you start?
In their recent organisational transformation, global giant Novartis began at the top by insisting that all their leaders hone a new set of skills to build “a listening culture.” This strategy recognises how leaders play a critical role in enabling employees to raise concerns, not just in how they design systems and processes to allow employees to speak up safely, but equally important in how leaders respond to issues raised.
Evidence-based research affirms that employees are most likely to raise issues with their direct managers, so skilling middle managers to respond positively is a critical enabler of psychological safety. Managers can model speak up practices by regularly disclosing their workplace challenges and inviting teams to share their personal experiences. It is this mutual sharing of challenges and organisational barriers that keeps the focus on the system changes that must happen rather than being side-tracked onto issues of personal character and disposition.
Current field research highlights the critical organisational barriers that prohibit employees from speaking up:
- Perceptions of inaction when issues are raised
- Perceptions of an over-reaction to the issue raised (eg. zero-tolerance policies leading to instant dismissal)
- Fear of personal retaliation
- Poor past experiences of raising issues
- Lack of personal clarity about compliance accountability
These barriers are “known risks” and the root cause of low trust in organisations. Organisational culture redesign initiatives can remove them.
Design your culture to ensure it is fit for purpose
Unfortunately, too few leaders today draw on evidence-based research and purposely oversee the design of their organisational culture. Unintentionally they create the whistleblowing scenarios that emerge. They also kill innovation. If people don’t feel safe, they cannot innovate and leave to find new places willing to welcome and listen to their input.
Field research suggests that speak-up cultures result from “inclusive” leadership styles that encourage diversity, inclusion, and collaboration. Leaders actively design their organisational context with strategies to build a social infrastructure that supports their people to:
- Share their ideas and raise any issues of concern, knowing they are protected
- Skill leaders at all levels to solicit, listen and respond to employee feedback
- Put data mechanisms to track behaviour patterns
- Publicly reward ethical behaviour and publicly demonstrate the consequences of inappropriate behaviour.
Behaviour science makes it possible for all leaders to purposely design and manage the organisational cultures that emerge on their watch.
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