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CHANGING A BUSINESS MENTALITY: IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE ‘US AND THEM’

Peter Eyre, managing director at live polling experts Vevox, suggests there is an engagement gap between managers and non-managers.

 

9th October 2019

There is a genuine desire among many businesses to be more inclusive and listen more to employees, but there is often still a gap between the vision and the practical implementation.

PETER EYRE, VEVOX


Most companies have hierarchical management structures. Typically, the more senior the  job title, the greater the level of responsibility and freedom that person has to make decisions that impact everyone else in the business. This kind of approach is widely accepted and deployed within businesses today.

Organisations should, however, never allow a hierarchical business structure to foster an “us and them” culture. Any approach that builds walls between management and staff risks leaving employees disengaged and unable to empathise with the core goals of the organisation.

In a recent Vevox-commissioned study, about one-third (34 per cent) of employees in large organisations, who are not themselves in a management role, say that management rarely or never listens to them or addresses their ideas, while just seven per cent say management always does.

The research also found that 57 per cent of employees are often or sometimes afraid to voice ideas to management about how their role in the business could be improved. Moreover, 30 per cent said they either lacked confidence or the opportunity to contribute to company meetings.  

Even where there is a theoretical acknowledgement of the importance of listening to employees and engaging closely with their ideas, that understanding is not necessarily being put into practice. 


Employees are changing – management must change too

Employees’ attitudes to the world of work and the way they should be engaging with their management teams are changing. Today, employees increasingly believe what they think and say should really matter to the organisation. If they feel a prospective employer does not share those values, they won’t want to join it in the first place. If they believe their current employer doesn’t, they will look to leave.

Businesses must open themselves up and make themselves attractive to the talent available to them – and also retaining those people once they have brought them in to the organisation.

Inclusivity and building a listening culture can help deliver this; people like working in collaborative organisations. They want to be part of organisations where success is built on teamwork and where change is driven by it. Businesses that deliver these kinds of supportive environments will attract and keep more staff.

There is a genuine desire among many businesses to be more inclusive and listen more to employees, but, as our survey demonstrates, there is often still a gap between the vision and the practical implementation. More than a third of the sample (36 per cent) claim their organisation does not even have a process in place to address employee ideas and a further 35 per cent are unsure if there is a process.


Overcoming barriers to engagement

For many organisations, there are still major barriers to overcome. Some feel overwhelmed by the scale of employee feedback and get worried that they are not equipped to respond to it. At the same time, they are concerned that a failure to respond efficiently and effectively may further disenfranchise their workforce. The reality is that they can learn a lot by just understanding and listening to their employees. That in itself will take them a long way.

In many cases, not having previously tried the technology or an approach is seen as an obstacle. Using anonymous feedback in meetings, for example, might be new to the business and they therefore may be worried about it. Once you dip your toes in the water and try new technology in a live environment, these concerns can start to fade away.

Providing a forum for anonymous feedback is another means by which businesses can deliver inclusivity. If employees feel that they can be identified, it can inhibit their willingness to interact. Being anonymous enables employees to speak out and engage without fear of being judged by their peers or their managers.

True anonymity is often difficult to deliver today, however. Any employee logging into meeting software will be linked to an account. If they use collaborative software or social media, they can be traced. Yet traceability must be avoided to gain true feedback from employees, such as not keeping IP addresses. 


Listening is key to inclusivity

Ultimately, a key element of building a truly inclusive workplace must include a commitment that everyone’s voice is listened to and heard, whatever their seniority, role or background. There has to be a genuine commitment even among organisations that are organised hierarchically to build a flat communications network, where everyone’s voice is listened to.

Too often in the past, lip service has been paid to this concept and little has been done. Today, though, that’s changing. Both employer and employee will gain from it. In line with this, our survey found that if management listened to and addressed more of employees’ ideas, 55 per cent of employees would feel happier and more valued, while almost a quarter (23 per cent) felt they would be better able to voice their opinions openly in the future.

Businesses increasingly understand the benefits of being inclusive – and the need to implement the processes and technology to make it happen. If they do all that, the “us and them’ culture that characterised workplaces in the past will finally be consigned to history.


Peter Eyre is managing director for Vevox, the live polling and Q&A app that’s transforming learning and meetings worldwide. Formerly MD for engagement tech specialists Lumi, in Australia and then the UK. Peter is passionate about tech, employee engagement, SaaS, marketing, leadership, travel, surfing, and raising three amazing daughters. @pedroeyre

 

There is a genuine desire among many businesses to be more inclusive and listen more to employees, but there is often still a gap between the vision and the practical implementation.

PETER EYRE, VEVOX

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