Only listen if you will do something - Business Works
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Only listen if you will do something

Adi Gaskell, CMI I wrote recently about how, despite the prolonged prompting by management thinkers such as Gary Hamel, very few employees would see themselves as having a voice at their company. The research by LRN found that just 3% of companies allow employees to be self governed, with 43% still using traditional command and control techniques.

The benefits of adopting a more democratic and inclusive approach to leadership are plentiful, but I would like to focus this article on what happens if you give people a voice, only then to ignore what you’re being told. That was the focus of a new study recently published in the Journal of Business Ethics.

The researchers conducted surveys of 137 employees in a Dutch healthcare company asking them how senior management at the company listened to their point of view. They were asked the methods used to solicit ideas, the level of regard those ideas were held by the board and for their relationship with colleagues.

To get the other side of the coin, they also surveyed 14 supervisors at the company, who were asked the same questions. Their responses were largely consistent with that of the rest of the workforce, ie they ignored the ideas from employees just as much as the employees thought they did. In fact the survey revealed they did more ignoring than suspected.

The research found that the more educated an employee, the more likely they were to offer up suggestions, so the research team performed a regression analysis on the results to account for this and the length of employee tenure. This revealed that as soon as employees suspected their managers of ignoring their ideas, they stopped offering them up. This phenomenon was termed giving employees a pseudo voice.

The consequences of this action were unearthed in a second analysis. This found that when employees were discouraged from voicing their opinions, conflicts went unresolved, with anti-social behaviour increasing as a result. This includes things such as not participating in meetings, starting arguments and bossing colleagues around. Frustrations at their lack of voice were literally taken out on colleagues.

By contrast, if employees were listened to, they then spoke up more often, got on better with colleagues and general organisational performance improved. So the benefits of offering employees a voice appear clear. Beware of the boy that cried wolf however. The authors caution that if you attempt to trick people into believing they have a voice, future attempts to engage with employees will flounder on this inherent lack of trust.

Adi Gaskell is Editor of the Management Blog from the Chartered Manaagement Institute (CMI):

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