Imagine giving your employees a real say in how your organization is run. Think about it: They show up to work, voice their opinions, express their concerns, toss around their ideas, and...get this--management says "you're right."

If that sounds like a scene from a badly scripted movie, think again. Giving employees "voice" has long been recognized as a key driver of leadership trust and organizational effectiveness.

Here's Why

Research by Ethan Burris of the University of Texas at Austin finds that managers respond positively to staff who use their voice in a way that supports the organization's policies, mission, and culture.

Employees not having voice is a problem, says Burris, "and it's not just because employees don't feel like speaking up. There's lots of research that shows when staff don't feel involved in the workplace, they tend to withdraw."

Burris' body of research, entitled "The Risks and Rewards of Speaking Up: Responses to Employee Voice," suggests that those employees who do speak up or challenge the status quo, unfortunately, are perceived to be less competent and less committed to their organizations.

In an era where 70 percent of employees are disengaged and employees don't trust their top bosses, employees need more than an "open door policy" in order to feel safe to speak up, contribute, and give their best effort.

Remember This Google Story?

Back in 2010, Google implemented a policy that provided extra payments to same-sex couples to cover the additional income tax they had to pay for health benefits received by a domestic partner.

But this didn't happen until a "Googler" emailed the VP of Benefits to voice opinion and explain that the policy was unfair. Google said, "You're right," and changed it. As is the case, Google became one of the first corporate giants to do so, setting the stage for others to follow.

When pressed by the New York Times about the cost to Google, Laszlo Bock, Google's HR boss, declined to comment and put the focus back on the principle of it all--equalizing benefits for all Googlers.

"If you were to add it all up, it's not like we are talking hundreds of thousands per employee. It will cost some money, but it was more about doing the right thing," said Bock.

Give Voice to Employees the ACUITY Way

Property/casualty insurer ACUITY, a $1.2 billion giant with 1110 employees, has made Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work for list two years in a row.

Quite a number of factors helped them make the list, including things like unlimited education reimbursement, flexible schedules, even casual lunches with executives where they share the company's goals with you. All in the name of building employee loyalty.

How do they give voice?

ACUITY's senior leaders allow employees to participate in annual strategic planning. Employees actually have the freedom to decide on which charity organizations ACUITY donates to, and they have donated over $12 million dollars the last eight years.

As you may imagine, ACUITY has really high employee ratings on their bosses and work environment. This has led to an incredible 2 percent voluntary turnover.

Their secret sauce is having created a culture that is built on trust and respect because their employees have voice in really important decisions.

Closing Thoughts

Affirming Burris' research, voice has shown positive effects of employees speaking up on decision quality, team performance, and organizational performance.

But there are prerequisites. It will take having a healthy, people-centered, work culture in place where values like openness, trust, and transparency are woven into the very fabric of how people communicate and relate. This can only start with the top of the food chain designing and implementing ways to value and empower their employees.

Published on: Jan 9, 2017