Gone are the days where you can treat your employees like replaceable cogs that don’t have other options.
Let me rephrase: Gone are the days where there are no visible consequences for treating your employees like replaceable cogs that don’t have other options.
2020 created a shift in perspective and power
The health pandemic forced many of us to slow down. With that slowing down came the ability to see things that were always there but we’d been too busy to notice.
We experienced new possibilities with working from home and new definitions of work-life integration. Basically, our “why not?” sensors have been activated.
The other pandemic was the social/racial justice one. It forced us to see everything wasn’t OK, and the COVID death disparity was eye-opening. Books like How to Be an Antiracist by Dr. Ibhram X. Kendi had us thinking about systems and not individuals. Terms like “White Supremacy” or “White Dominance” and “White Privilege” became commonplace.
All these changes left many employers in crisis mode. They had to respond to both the health and social justice pandemics, at the same time.
On the health front, they turned to local officials to provide guidelines. On the social justice front, they scrambled to show solidarity with Black Lives Matter and other anti-racist movements and to increase their Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging efforts.
It also meant employees were/are paying close attention to performative actions vs. long-term commitment to making change, especially when it comes to social justice. Part of that change includes listening to your employees and putting systems for change in place — to challenge our outdated written and unwritten policies to make sure they are truly inclusive and to create a great employee experience for everyone.
If you want your customers to have a great experience, those who serve them — your employees — must have a great experience also.
A great employee experience is one that puts employees’ needs and desires at the center and not the company’s. Employee input is critical for companies and leaders to understand and improve in this dynamic area.
Two types of input are central to enhancing your employee experience. I call them the “Two i’s”: issues and ideas.
- An ISSUE is something that needs to be fixed.
- An IDEA, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily mean something is broken, but might represent an opportunity to make something better or create something new all together from employees’ diverse experiences.
I have worked at many companies in different industries where I found myself with an issue or an idea, but I didn’t know what to do with them.
Sure, there are standard responses when such things are brought up. Two popular responses include:
- share your ideas or issues with your manager, or
- share them with Human Resources (HR).
The problem with either of these paths is that they can feel like black holes your ideas fall into unless the company creates systems designed to provide clear answers and updates.
How to address issues and ideas employees bring up
To a leader, the word “issue” may conjure the image of someone just dumping a problem in your lap, when you already have so much to do. And while this may be true, having an attitude of resistance here can shut down communication between you and your employees.
Instead, create an environment where your employees feel comfortable bringing up things that need fixing and have a clearly understood pathway for reporting them.
Here is a solution that worked for me, plus some additional ideas for you to experiment with as you engage your employees on their issues and ideas.
1) Peer Empowerment Team: When I was an Operations Manager at Intel in Massachusetts, I helped to create and facilitate what was known as the Peer Empowerment Team. This team provided a platform and regular meetings for issues to be shared (with ideas on how to help to fix them) from people at all different levels of the company. The group also provided space for upper management to share some of their ideas — before they jumped right into implementing things without feedback from those who would be affected.
2) Email “Suggestion Box”: Create a dedicated email address employees can use to share issues they are facing and their suggested solutions. Once a week at a leadership team meeting, suggestions are reviewed and assigned an owner. That owner is responsible for providing a response to the person who submitted the suggestion; at a minimum, they would acknowledge that the suggestion was received and is being reviewed. Responding to the person who sent the suggestion is non-negotiable if you want a credible and sustainable process.
- You can make the suggestions visible to your company by tracking them using a spreadsheet or project management tool like Trello or Asana.
- Instead of an email address to capture issues or ideas, create a form instead. With a form, you can have drop-down menus and regular responses that you can sort and measure. You can also offer the option for the person submitting to indicate if they would like to be part of creating or implementing their suggestions/ideas. This could be a simple “yes or no,” or a 0 to 10 scale that expresses how involved they would like to be by the number of hours per week they have available to dedicate to the project.
3) Encourage Communication from Day One: During new hire onboarding, encourage employees to share their “two i’s”, and explain the process they’ll use and how leadership will address their issues and ideas. This sets the tone of open communication, and shows employees that their input will be considered — and more importantly, is valued.
Doing the right thing for your employees does the right thing for your company
Incorporating any or all of these options helps your employees by:
- giving them a clear way to share their issues or ideas
- giving them the opportunity to be involved in creating a solution
- showing that they and their ideas are valued and encouraged
And helps leadership and the company by:
- improving your company by implementing the valuable suggestions your employees bring
- incorporating employees in the solutions, so leadership doesn’t carry the whole load
- improving the relationship your employees have with the company and its leaders
And it’s all measurable. Wouldn’t it be cool to see how many suggestions your employees submitted, how many were actually implemented, and the effect they have on the health of your organization (think employee retention, morale, and productivity)?
Your employees no longer need to search for a great place to work, because they’re already deeply involved and invested in helping create one — right where they are.