I've seen it plenty of times throughout my career. An executive makes a decision that employees don't like, or think isn't fair. It starts with employees banding together through behind-the-door talks and conversations at the water cooler, and eventually turns into a full-on employee revolt.
Two hundred Google employees are organizing a women's walk scheduled for Thursday to protest the company's handling of sexual harassment incidents, according to BuzzFeed News. How the company responds next is crucial.
So, the question is, now what should you do as a leader of the company? Do you ignore it and hope it goes away, or do you address it head-on with hopes that it doesn't spiral out of control? Either way, you run the risk of making it worse.
If not done properly, employees might quit out of protest or send out a mass email stating their disagreement with the decision. It makes you, the leader, look bad and lose of control of the situation.
Here are three ways the best leaders respond to turmoil:
1. Before making any rash decisions, show your employees that you're listening to their concerns.
One of my favorite books, Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It, shares stories about how to negotiate in tough situations. According to author Chris Voss, the best way to negotiate with them is by empathetically listening to their demands. This shouldn't be news to anyone, but it's surprisingly rare how few people listen in these situations.
The best way to prove that your listening is to mirror them and repeat the words they tell you back to them. A negotiators goal is to find out what the other person is really angry about. What do they really want to happen?
Leaders in this situation are no different. Find out the core reason for your employees revolting. Is it the pay? Is it the promotion policies? Is it because executives are constantly treated better than the regular staff? Don't just listen to the demands, listen to why they are revolting in the first place.
2. Reiterate the shared vision you have for the company and get re-alignment.
It's been proven by multiple studies that when employees agree on a shared vision, they are more productive and engaged in their work. Essentially, you need to get the employees to understand why you made the decision you made and why it was the best decision for the shared vision of the company.
Sit down the core group of employees who are revolting and talk about your shared goals and let them share what they think the goals of the company are. This brings the conversation to the overall vision of the company, and not the individual tactics.
Of course, don't turn this into a bait-and-switch. You still have to address the main reason they're revolting. You can't tell them to calm down and tell them it wasn't a big deal. That's not how this works.
However, if your decisions don't align with the goals of the company, then things will only get worse.
3. Words are cheap. Acknowledge the issue and take action immediately.
For Google, 200 employees organizing a walkout is a small subset of the company, but that's only the employees who are willing to put their career on the line in a public spotlight. This is not an easy move for them to make.
Remember, those are just the organizers. If no action is taken, 200 employees can easily turn into 1,000 or even 10,000 in a very short timeframe. Whatever that action is, you need to address it with words and action as soon as possible.
In Google's case, it's clear that the leaders can't ignore this issue or take a hard stance on it because they could potentially make it worse. If they listen, reiterate their shared values for the future of Google, and take action based on the feedback from their team, good things can happen.