It should have been an easy meeting. Management at all levels agreed on the path for the new initiative. It wasn’t really a time for discussion; it was a time to explain plans and to set goals. And then, a lowly associate asked to speak. Point by point, goal by goal, the associate tore into the agreed-upon solutions. Management was taking the wrong direction. The new program would fail without key changes. He could see the flaws in their plan, and he had solutions.
At many firms, this lowly employee would be labeled a trouble-maker. He could have been disciplined, or have faced career stagnation, for daring to question corporate leadership in this frank and public way. But this engineer didn’t work for just any company. He worked for Raleigh-based Red Hat, a technology company known for its focus on innovation and meritocracy. The company’s leadership listened to his suggestions, and weighed them against their own plans. Eventually, they adopted all of his proposals, and he was on a path to promotion, not unemployment.
In an article in Wired, James Whitehurst, the CEO of Red Hat, explains that the Raleigh firm encourages great ideas from all members of the team. While Red Hat employs a hierarchical corporate structure, leaders also know that great ideas can come from anywhere. As a result, Whitehurst and his colleagues encourage employees to offer constructive criticism on corporate initiatives and they listen respectfully to the ideas that employees present to the management team.
They also realize that not all thought leaders are also people managers, so when they reward an employee for a good idea, they do it in ways that encourage his passion for the job rather than by simply adding a new title or new management responsibilities. For instance, an employee who came up with an exciting idea related to cloud commuting might be put in charge of bringing his initiative to life.
As employees prove that their criticisms and ideas have worth, they move up through the Red Hat ranks. Everyone on the management team has earned their place there by coming up with great ideas, going beyond their job description, and achieving excellent results. Employees at all levels see that thinking, problem-solving, and speaking up present a pathway to success at Red Hat. This creates a culture where employees aren’t afraid to share ideas or offer constructive criticism of managers.
Your meetings and teams may not be structured like Red Hat’s , but you still have opportunities to allow employees to speak up, share innovative ideas, and possibly even change the direction of the company. When you reward and promote people based on the quality of their ideas, you create an innovative, agile management team that won’t be afraid to speak up when they see mistakes in corporate strategy. By encouraging constructive criticism at all levels, you can avoid costly mistakes and create more productive teams.
What tools can you use to encourage employees to speak up?
Remember, it’s not enough to add a line to the corporate handbook praising people who speak up and offer constructive criticism and new ideas. You have to actively demonstrate to your employees that you value their input, respect their expertise, and acknowledge their abilities. If you take positive, concrete actions, you can create a team that values constructive criticism and understands that everyone is responsible for making sure that initiatives succeed.
Are you unsure of how to go about empowering employees to speak up when they spot a problem with the direction of the company? Do you struggle to create teams of honest, innovative managers and thought leaders? The experts at Applied Vision Works can help you create a culture that rewards new ideas and constructive criticism.