As a leader, you rely on information. Data and feedback help you make better decisions about your company. And one of the most valuable sources of information is your employees. Unfortunately, they don't always feel like they can approach you with their input.
Research indicates that many employees don't feel comfortable bringing up concerns outside of performance reviews. So unless your company conducts reviews on a regular basis, this means information will be slow to reach you.
Having an open-door policy isn't enough. You need to build accessibility into your company and its culture. And that starts with you. Here are four tips to make yourself more approachable to employees
1. Stop punishing mistakes.
People make mistakes. But if employees think they'll be unduly reprimanded for admitting their errors, they'll clam up. As a result, leaders won't get the information they need to fix mistakes in a timely manner. Jeff McCarthy, vice president of customer success at Reflektive, a provider of performance review software, has seen this firsthand.
One client, for instance, often punished employees when they made mistakes. "This created a culture that was fearful of taking risks -- more specifically, the company had trouble innovating," McCarthy said.
If you've made it a habit to scolding employees for unintentional mistakes, praise them instead for taking accountability. Then, have managers check in with employees more often. Reflektive, which has studied workplace issues, estimates that roughly half of all employees want to meet one-on-one with their managers at least once a month.
Meeting this regularly not only makes it easier to address mistakes early, but also it gives employees a chance to discuss possible solutions.
2. Head off the gossip.
When employees don't feel comfortable discussing problems with their managers, they vent to co-workers. And you end up hearing about issues through the grapevine. Instead of being able to nip the problem in the bud, rumors spread and distort the situation.
While working for a former employer, Jeff Somers, now the president of Insureon, an online provider of small business insurance, heard from a colleague that a key employee was unhappy with how resources were allocated to projects.
The employee's own project wasn't approved for funding and told others that the company had a flawed decision-making process. When Somers realized this, he set up a meeting with the individual to discuss the criteria company leaders used to decide what projects to pursue.
"Once this team member understood this, his/her opinion changed immediately," Somers said. "This employee still wasn't thrilled about the outcome, but understood how we arrived at the decision and was supportive of it."
Take the initiative and have a conversation with employees who are unwilling to come to you with their concerns. Being open and honest will help you gain their trust. Then, instead of gossiping about problems, your team will know it's safe to go to you.
3. Remove the pressure.
When employees are under pressure due to high expectations and deadlines, they often try to sweep problems under the rug. They hope the issue will work itself out, but in reality, ignoring the problem just causes more trouble in the long run.
Some companies create multiple channels for employees to raise questions and concerns. Options include email or Slack, and the more, the better. This way, no matter what the situation is -- whether employees need the input of the entire team or want to remain anonymous -- they have a way to speak up.
ArcTouch, a mobile app design and development company, says it created forums to ratchet down heated conversations. "Our product managers previously felt stuck because they were feeling pressure from all sides, causing emotion to run high," said Adam Fingerman, co-founder and chief experience officer. "But by offering forums for our team members to raise any issues as questions -- rather than as problems -- that helps take the emotion out of the situation."
4. Make feedback continuous
One of the best ways to be more approachable as a leader is to consistently ask for employees' input. By conducting employee pulse surveys, you can know what's going on in the moment.
"Regular feedback needs to be normalized in companies today, which is why I advocate for a culture of continuous feedback," said Kim Dawson, director of employee experience at YouEarnedIt, an employee engagement and recognition platform. "Discussions happen freely, and employees and managers are able to share things before they bottle up and become an issue."
Find a platform that collects data on multiple aspects of the employee experience. Then, set a schedule for employees to provide feedback. When they see the positive changes that come about, they'll see the importance of freely sharing what's on their minds -- even if it's negative feedback.