Are Your Employees Afraid of Telling You the Truth?

The late and feisty Sam Goldwyn, the American film producer at MGM, was beside himself. After six straight box office flops, he brought together his staff and said, “I want you to tell me exactly what’s wrong with me and MGM, even if means losing your job.” With that kind of a request you can bet there were no takers. This might seem ridiculous, but this same scenario plays out far too often in small business across the land.

In one company I worked with, I recall the CEO asking his team this question, “So what do you think about my strategy to expand our sales? The sea of faces reflected a host of polite nods and half smiles. One or two comments were made that expressed that it sounded like a good strategy. But, was it really? Of course it wasn’t, and it failed miserably.

This scenario is played out time and time again in small businesses everywhere. The business owner, CEO or department head communicates an idea or a strategy that is destined to fail, because the employees are just plain afraid to say what is on their mind. They are afraid to tell the truth. Why? Because their leader does not understand how to create an environment where it is safe to communicate openly and honestly. As a result, the best ideas are never shared or mistakes that could be avoided are made, and the company and everyone who is part of it, is worse off.

Here are three strategies you can do to prevent this from happening in your company or organization.

1. Make it clear that you want people to feel safe in expressing their ideas and suggestions in one-on-one situations and in front of group meetings. Explain why it is important to the growth of the company that you ask for, and hear the truth, good and bad that they have to share. Never ostracize some one for telling the truth. In another company I worked with, I saw the owner of the company schedule and run a meeting to generate new ideas to grow the company. Shortly into the meeting, he literally became angry at some of the people that made suggestions that he did not agree with. Just like an iron door slamming shut, it turned off the possibility of the truth ever being spoken in that room.

2. Encourage dissent and blend in. Divide your meeting attendees into small groups. Start the discussion and sit with one of the groups. Then, after a few minutes, move to another small group and then another. Let them know by your presence and body language that you approve of their dissident ideas. Let the conversations flow.

Encourage your team to avoid rejecting any ideas from their peers. Remind them that when two people in business always agree, one of them is not necessary. After several minutes, call the group back together into one large group. When the time is right, encourage any controversial questions about ideas that were raised, to be discussed.

Sort out the workable ideas and use the TMET Formula that I shared with you before to implement them.
T– Try the idea.
M-Measure the results.
E-Evaluate it the results.
T-Tweak or Toss the idea.

3. Finally, the third strategy to use, to get the truth from your employees, is praise people privately and publically who do share the truth, even if you don’t agree with it.

Remind people that it is ok to disagree as long as they do it agreeably. Discuss with your employees some examples of the times when you worked with another company and you disagreed with your boss. What were the benefits? What were the consequences to your former company when they would not listen to contrary viewpoints?

So, to summarize this article, remember you will not get the truth unless you ask for it. Reward, not punish people, for telling it. As it is often been said, no one is as smart as all of us.

Remember to encourage people to speak their mind, keep your mind open, and listen to your employees and managers. When you do, you will be amazed at the brilliant and profitable ideas that come streaming your way on a regular basis.