Have you ever had a manager say to you… “It’s ok – feel free to share anything with me” or “I look forward to your comments” or my personal favourite “this is a safe environment”?

Too often I have heard or witnessed situations where managers say they want openness and feedback but, their actions contradict such innovative approaches.

 

Creating the right environment

Years ago, I remember a manager saying to me (and the team) we were free to challenge any ideas, come up with new suggestions to challenge the status quo and speak our mind.  I thought at the time – wow this is fabulous, the very place for me!  A few weeks later at our weekly management meeting, I felt it necessary to respectfully question an HR initiative I felt may not work so well with our staff.  I framed my thoughts as professionally as I could and waited.  Silence.  My colleagues were looking everywhere but at me.  My manager was looking at nothing else but me. I remember thinking what have I done wrong?  I followed the rules, it’s ok to share…isn’t it?  I was asked to wait behind at the end of the meeting where I was reprimanded for “not being onboard”.  When I reminded my manager they had asked for feedback, I was shut down.

My colleagues told me after that meeting, they themselves had experienced similar responses and as a result had learnt not to question anything the manager said.   I was appalled – why ask for feedback if you don’t mean it?

You can guess what happened at subsequent meetings with that manager – none of us hardly spoke and one by one my colleagues and I left the business. After that meeting, my environment had changed.  My trust was broken and all the ideas that I had, that I really wanted to share stayed in my head.  Quite simply – I didn’t feel safe.

If you want to encourage innovative thinking and creativity within your team, it’s up to you as a manager to provide a setting where employees are not only given opportunities to express their opinions but can do so with the reassurance that it is ok, and they are ok.

 

Hire staff who complement your strengths and weaknesses

As a manager surrounding yourself with yes people is not particularly healthy.  True leaders don’t surround themselves with people who compliment them but look to hire people who complement them.

J.W. “Bill” Marriott, executive chairman and chairman of the board of Marriott International, one of the world’s largest lodging companies, said, “Surround yourself with good people, then the important thing is to listen to them, and not let them know what you think before you ask them what they are thinking. Once they know what you think, most of the time they will just go along with it.”

I remember deliberately recruiting someone into my team whom I knew would challenge me.  We were very different in our styles and whilst at first it was slightly awkward, that relationship turned out to be one of the most rewarding and productive working relationships I have ever had (and we are still in regular contact).

Managers, if you ask for feedback and opinions be prepared to listen to them.  You don’t have to agree nor are you under compulsion to accept the idea, but you do have to respect where they came from and acknowledge the leap of faith your employee has taken in even speaking their mind.

In the beautiful words of Maya Angelou, she said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”