HR Management & Compliance, Talent

How to Encourage Employees to Speak Up about Issues Outside Their Official Roles

In many organizations, it’s uncommon for members of one team or department to openly question the decisions made by those in another team or department unless those decisions directly impact their own work. “James Detert’s  research at Harvard Business School reveals that even when people are comfortable speaking up, they often withhold information and concerns when they don’t believe there’s a good reason to do otherwise,” writes Ron Carucci in an article in Harvard Business Review.  

Based on his experience working with 40 leadership teams, Carucci has found that there is often a sort of “unspoken agreement” between team leaders, not to infringe on another’s “territory.” This, he says, is true even in very open communication environments, where transparency and the active sharing of feedback is encouraged.
This unwillingness to raise issues with groups beyond an employee’s or a manager’s direct role can have significant consequences to businesses. Major issues could go un-addressed, simply because employees didn’t take the step of escalating concerns. Carucci offers four tips to help encourage employees to raise such concerns.

Set the Expectation

Letting employees know that they are expected to bring forward concerns even when these concerns are related to issues outside of their own group is a key first step in encouraging such behavior. For one, it puts them on notice that not doing so is counter to company expectations. Additionally, it will help alleviate some of the anxiety that can come from feeling like they’re sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong.

Orchestrate “Speed Dating” Exchanges

Carucci notes that many organizations he has worked with invest the time to hold 20- to 30-minute one-on-one meetings with other leaders and teams. He suggests that these types of sessions could be used to discuss topics like leadership effectiveness, strategy execution, etc. They’re a good way to help employees get to know others outside their own departments, which can help to open up channels of communication and build trust.

Build Shared Problem Solving into Your Regular Meeting Agendas

Essentially, employees are asked to share problems their teams are facing with other groups in regular meetings to solicit feedback and suggestions. Having these types of discussions regularly can be a good way for employees to observe behaviors modeled by others, including how managers respond to constructive criticism and feedback.

Measure Trust

Trust is a key element in encouraging sharing within organizations. There are a number of ways to measure trust, including simple surveys. The key is to take these measurements consistently and regularly—and to respond appropriately to insights attained.
People do not want to be seen as tattletales or to appear overly concerned with issues that are “not their business.” But the success of every department is key to the success of the company as a whole, and that success is important to every member of the organization, regardless of their specific role or department. Encouraging employees to bring up difficult issues can be extremely important in this regard. It can help to unearth issues at an early point where they can be addressed before they impact the company’s reputation or brand,

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