“If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in the dark with a mosquito.” —Betty Reese
When talking with employees of an organization you will often discover that the rank and file employees within the organization are far more aware of the problems going on then the management is. And you’ll find management is far more aware of the problems than the leader at the top is. So why is that?
I’ve served on numerous boards of organizations over the years and in that role I often ask employees why they aren’t sharing what they know about the problems that exist in the organization with the leader at the top?
The first answer they typically give is that they did share the issues they’ve seen with their direct manager or someone in HR and from there they just assumed their manager or the HR person had taken the info up the chain to the top leader. And if nothing gets done to fix it, they assume the top leader must not have cared. And with that most employees either simply stop sharing what they know or they get fed up and leave having lost respect for leadership.
What’s sad is that often times employees end up believing the leader doesn’t care or isn’t willing to fix things, when the reality is the top leader may not have known anything about the problems at all! Perhaps a manager or HR person never passed the information on to the leader at all. Maybe they were afraid sharing the issues with the leader would make them look bad for letting the problems happen; or maybe the manager was hiding it because it was their fault or mistake; or worse, maybe the manager was intentionally doing things they shouldn’t have been doing and they were actively covering it up. Employees should never assume the leader knows…they should tell the leader themselves.
On the other hand, if you are the leader it is you who desperately needs the information your employees can provide you as it will help you make the very best decisions for your organization. And at the end of the day, whether you as the leader knew about the problems or not, it’s your shoulders the blame will fall on. So the onus to make sure every employee feels their voice is valued and there are systems in place to make sure their voices will always get to you, falls squarely on you.
As CEO of my past company we came up with an inexpensive solution to help do that. We implemented an easy discussion board where employees at every level could post any problems they saw, issues needing to be fixed, as well as give their ideas on how to fix them. By making those discussions accessible to managers at every level to review and respond to, as well as letting top leadership see it any time, it created a culture of open feedback from employees across the organization, and it led to a culture of accountability because problems couldn’t be hidden from leadership and managers took responsibility for prioritizing issues and correcting problems.
To any employees out there who feel their voice is too small or insignificant for their leader to want to hear from you I would say this, “Integrity is all about doing the right thing and letting the consequence follow. While you can’t control what the person at the top will do with the information you bring them, you CAN control that did what was right by sharing the truth of the things you know and have seen. Your integrity is the most valuable asset you own and it will stay with you long past any job, so never let fear of being too small, or unimportant, or someone retaliating stop you from doing the right thing. Tell your leader the truth…the rest falls on them. And always remember that opening quote I shared – you are never too small to be effective.”
~Amy Rees Anderson (author of the book “What Awesome Looks Like: How To Excel in Business & Life” )