Why Employees Are Afraid To Tell You The Truth

What is truth? In the context we will be discussing today, the truth will be recognized as a fact or reality. I am not writing today about the abstract truth which may be interpreted in different ways by different people. I am speaking about realities and facts about yourself or about your company which your employees may be afraid to tell you. Peak performing leaders should always be looking for this kind of truth, because it helps transform your organizational culture.

Why self-censor? Good question. Because there is fear present. A fear that talking about what is really going on will carry some consequences or blow-back. In some company cultures, this is rampant and sadly, malignant. Things have been this way for so long, change will be difficult because no one wants to describe the emperor’s body although they have seen him naked several times. It’s a simple act of self-preservation. More than likely, someone long ago named Fred was bold and they were dealt with boldly and swiftly. Just keep your mouth shut or you will be like Fred.

Has there been hostile behavior about suggestions before? Sometimes people will withhold input from a person higher up in the corporate hierarchy because they believe that the superior fin charge of the project, process, or issue in question would resent suggestions that implied a need for change. Sometimes employees believe their bosses would feel betrayed if constructive ideas for change were offered when more-senior leaders were present or their bosses could feel embarrassed to be shown up by a subordinate in front of other subordinates.

Hotlines and suggestion boxes blah! Helping employees feel safe enough to contribute fully requires deep cultural change that alters how they understand the likely costs versus benefits of speaking up. It takes leaders who are committed to spending the time over longer periods of actually listening and implementing some of the employees’ ideas.

Jack Welch rocked it. He implemented a program at GE called “Work Out”. It was a process where Welch turned his people from employees to owners. An employee was quoted at the time Work Out was implemented that they “spent 90% of their time trying to figure out how to screw the management.”  Before Work Out, GE’s management spent all their time telling people what to do and they did exactly what they were told to do. And not one other thing, either, mind you. The Work Out sessions, which started in 1988, gathered people from all levels of the company to figure out how to make the company better. The most powerful thing was managers were forced to answer on the spot to suggestions, when possible.

Turn your company upside down. Every so often, you will find it beneficial to find out from people at all levels of your company about what is really happening. Shop your own store. Eat your own food. Call your own business. Interview new people prior to their 90 day mark to find out true impressions of what is happening. They won’t be intimidated yet, but hurry, they will be assimilated into the culture after the first 90 days and you will have lost a golden opportunity if you have the stomach for it and the desire to make a change in your culture.

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