Do the people who work in your company love being there? Do they feel free to share their opinions and their ideas? Are they friends as well as colleagues? Creating a workplace that's open and trusting is important to the success of any company, according to Matthew Gonnering, CEO of digital assets management company Widen. And yet, he notes, fear is the main driving force in many if not most companies.
Over time, companies with open, trusting cultures will win the talent wars against companies that operate on fear. So now's the time to make certain you don't have any of these elements that create mistrust and fear:
1. Emotionally ignorant managers.
You yourself may have great EQ and outstanding management skills. But if the managers who work for you don't share those qualities, you can still wind up with timid, mistrustful, or resentful employees. "Some leaders instill fear in people because they don't know any other way to motivate--they are not self-aware, and not empathetic to the needs of others," Gonnering warns.
One way to avoid this issue is by hiring emotionally intelligent managers, but since most people are on their best behavior during the hiring process, you'll have to ask the right questions. "Ask questions about their reason for existence, visions they have for the future, and how their purpose and and vision plays out relative to your organization," he advises. Asking about mentors and sources of inspiration will help tell you what they strive to become.
Present current or anticipated challenges and ask potential candidates how they would handle them. "This helps you see how they think through a situation," he says. "Where does their thought process take them?"
If you do have emotionally ignorant managers, be aware that they can improve with training, Gonnering adds. "It's the support they may need to advance as a leader within your organization."
2. Too many layers of management.
Most business leaders get it drummed into their heads that you need authoritative layers of management, Gonnering says. "Only fear-based leaders want layers to hide in."
In fact, as Widen continues to increase its head count every year, her relies on self-managed teams and decentralization to help the company scale. "As we grow past 100 employees, there are hints of layering to accommodate the growth," he says. "'We need a manager in that area!' No, we don't. We need employees to feel empowered and we need to refine the structure to accommodate that."
For instance, he says, recently a few employees have stepped forward to ask for leadership roles in their groups. "My response is a simple question, 'why?'" he says. Inevitably, the answer consist of great ideas they have and all the things they would do if they were the leader. So Gonnering asks: "What is preventing you from doing those things now? Title? Don't need it to make changes. Investment? How much and what are we buying? Time? What do we need to automate or who do we need to hire?"
3. Secrecy around bad news.
Some companies eagerly blast news of every promotion and customer win to the world, but don't bring employees into the loop when things are going badly. But creating a trusting workplace means sharing all the news, good and bad, Gonnering says. "We transitioned through a major organizational shift over the last handful of years with revenue declines in our traditional business and amazing growth in our software services business."
Good news is easy to share, and Widen does plenty of that with hiring announcements, reports, end-of-year bonuses and so on, he says. "Bad news sucks but bad news sucks more when it's a surprise." So Widen's management team has communicated openly with the whole company about products in decline, layoffs, and the cancelling of merit increases company-wide.
"We talk about real issues," Gonnering says. "Real issues are things you don't really want to talk about but you have to. Employees need to know because they can help."