Things Your Employees Will Probably Never Tell You (Unless You Ask)

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On June 22, 2015

Things-your-employees-will-never-tell-you-unless-you-askCompanies have long given lip service to the idea of listening to employees. Many companies have suggestion boxes. Some are physical boxes attached to a wall and some are virtual boxes that exist online. Most of those boxes, however, share a common characteristic: They tend to be pretty low on content.

Why is that? My guess is that the main reason for a lack of employee suggestions stems from the fact that they don’t really believe anybody pays attention to their suggestions. The suggestion box (physical or virtual) is perceived as a nice symbol—an acknowledgement that employee opinions are important. But it doesn’t change anything.

The fact of the matter is that your employees probably do have some suggestions that will benefit the company. But they will probably never share these unless they are asked to do so—by people at the executive level.

Of course that doesn’t “just happen.” You have to plan it and make it happen regularly. Verne Harnish talks about the importance of having executives doing this once a week in what’s called a “Start/Stop/Keep” conversation that focuses on three key questions: What should we start doing as a company? What should the company stop doing? What should the company keep doing?

However, if someone from upper or middle management suddenly corners employees and begins asking those questions, you may end up with a lot of “deer-in-the-headlights” looks. Or you may end hearing griping about minor things that don’t really matter. So set the expectations and the tone by clarifying that you’re looking for input that will accomplish one of three things:

  • Increase the company’s revenues
  • Reduce the company’s costs
  • Improve working conditions by making things easier or better for customers or employees.

Even after doing that, your not done. It’s not enough to simply listen. You need to act on the input. You need to get back to the employee(s) with how you’re using input to make specific changes. Sometimes you can’t implement a suggestion. That’s OK. But you still owe it to the employees to get back to them with why it can’t be implemented. Don’t let them think you ignored a suggestion.

You may want to put someone in middle management in charge of this to make sure it happens. If you want to increase participation, you could read suggestions at a company-wide meeting. To really make it effective, read the suggestion (naming the person who submitted it) and talk briefly about what change was made, and have a small monetary reward for the person who made the suggestion. To really close the loop, highlight how this change has benefitted the company (i.e. increased sales or improved customer satisfaction).