There is almost an implied stand off between most executives and employees. Don't tell me what I don't want to hear and things will move along just fine. The problem for leadership is they need to hear real feedback or they begin to believe their own perspective on the needs and tone of their team.
A great leader needs to drive forward and inspire the team to focus ahead in order to achieve success. But these leaders must connect empathetically with the individual team members and realize that not all followers think like a leader or even want to do so. Still those same team members are often afraid to express their real thoughts for fear of negative repercussions from the leader and other colleagues. Here are 10 thoughts you should make it a point to surface.
1. We can't get there if we don't understand where we are going.
Leaders want followers but the best employees won't follow blind. Smart people need to comprehend the big picture so they can make appropriate decisions for the company. If you have a vision, share it. If you don't have one, do the hard work with your team to set a target you all can believe in. When big decisions appear to be arbitrarily made in the vacuum of the C-suite, and fragmented communications trickle down through silos. Organizations, especially big ones, often suffer from a lack of trust. All of this results in employees disconnecting, becoming inefficient and unhappy.
2. We're not getting paid what we're worth.
Employees need to feel appreciated, but a company needs to stay profitable. Money can be an awkward subject for employees to bring up, they don't want to feel ungrateful or greedy and it may be unclear how to advance financially if pay systems are arbitrary. Open book management and standardized compensation can go a long way in giving the employees control over their compensation. Quarterly one-on-ones are crucial to discuss progress to date, and expectations moving forward for both compensation and deliverables. Better to decide if the expectations are reasonable in advance and let the employee drive the process for success.
3. That's nice that you're an entrepreneur, but for me it's just a job.
An entrepreneur's enthusiasm can be exciting, and also overwhelming. It's admirable to push hard on a path to greatness despite all odds, but for many amazing employees, it's just too much to live in that mental and emotional space all the time. That's why they did not choose to be entrepreneurs. You hire people for their talents and capabilities. Respect that they have their own outlook on life. Find ways to meet both your needs and objectives so everyone feels appreciated for the life path they have chosen and can define success in their own terms.
4. Sometimes, we have a better solution.
Managers make many decisions in a day. Some choices require counsel from employees; some are solo choices, or so you may think. It's easy to become so accustomed to the routine of decision-making that you forget to consult your employees as often as you should. But making isolated decisions may negatively impact areas you haven't considered. Your team works more closely with your products and processes. They may have critical insights into finding the best solution. It never hurts to ask.
5. We're overwhelmed.
No one wants to admit to falling behind or biting off more than they can chew, especially when first starting out in a position. You have nothing to lose by inquiring, as they may admit to being in trouble. Monitor your employees just enough to gauge whether they can take on more or are getting buried. Open the lines of communication encouraging honest assessments. Prioritize success first and ego last. Soon you'll find people will be willing to take on more load for the right reasons.
6. Looking over our shoulder doesn't make us work faster.
While monitoring employee progress is key for timely success, too much input from a manager can create excess pressure and actually hinder the process. Micromanaging an employee's workload can deplete their confidence in being able to accomplish a task on their own, or imply that you don't have faith in their capabilities. It also eats up additional time for both the manager and the employee. Set expectations and then give the room for the employee to be accountable. Reasonable check points will keep things from getting too far out of control.
7. Money is only the minimum we need to be happy.
It's true that most people work so they can earn a paycheck, but money is rarely the reason people leave or stay at a company. People need to feel they are contributing and appreciated. They want to advance their own learning and self worth. If you want to attract and retain great talent, find ways to make it about their personal growth and happiness beyond the basic salary.
8. Respect our down time, for your sake.
The advancements in communication technology over the past 20 years have added some convenience, however they've also intruded on work-life balance. Employees are now reachable 24 hours a day 7 days a week. They can feel obligated to match the work of ambitious co-workers and managers, answering emails and texts late at night and on weekends. For smart people to be at their best, they need downtime. Establish appropriate protocols and expectations so they don't over stress and drain themselves at the detriment of peak performance.
9. I'm bored.
The worst feeling an employee can experience is uselessness. Either they have too little work or the work they have isn't challenging. Boredom can deplete engagement and promote a negative office atmosphere. Work with your team to adequately share the workload. Monitor productivity and communicate often about milestones. If people have capacity, refocus them on new challenges that will move the company forward.
10. Being vocal and honest doesn't always work.
If you are not hearing the above statements from your employees, perhaps it's because you are one of the lucky few managers whose employees don't have any of these opinions or feelings. Or, perhaps you're not fostering a safe environment for people to express themselves, and you are so focused on your own path you are blind and deaf to what is going on around you. One way or another, eventually the truth will come out, so you may as well take a proactive approach and encourage them to speak their mind today. Then if you want your employees to continue to be open, be sure to address their concerns accordingly. Otherwise, they'll just go back to lying to you and you can live happily in your bubble... until it pops.