Start at the Top
Senior management should continually ask
employees for their views and thank them for their suggestions. When
appropriate, they should also use the suggestion and tell the employee that it
was heard and appreciated.
Ask Open-ended Questions
Ask questions that will elicit more than one-word
answers. Use open-ended questions such as, "How do you feel about this?" or
"Why do you think this is true?" or "Please tell me more about that."
It can very powerful and contagious for senior
managers to display openness themselves. For example, a CEO could stand up in
front of employees and say something like "As you know, we recently made a
decision to acquire another company but I felt very torn about the decision and
had many doubts such as . . . . What are your doubts?"
Catch People in the Act
When an employee makes a comment, suggestion or
criticism, go out of your way to acknowledge their remarks. Sincerely thank
them, being careful not to be patronizing. This will not only increase the
probability that the person will speak up again, it will also help promote a
spirit of openness that will spread to others.
Fear of speaking up is often a cultural issue that
pervades all levels of an organization, not just frontline employees. I was at
a meeting recently of department heads. An officer of the company said to the
group, "We seem to have a problem here. Our employees do not feel free to voice
their opinions openly. Any ideas about why this is so and what we can do about
Guess what happened? Nobody spoke up. I told them
that if they really wanted to understand the problem, they needed only to look
inside and think about why they themselves were hesitant right now to voice