One of my suggested methods for engaging employees and uncovering feedback sounds simple, but is not a common practice. Leaders and managers must make an effort to spend time with all employees at all levels of the company. Universally, senior leaders exist in a bubble and only interact with other executives and with their direct reports. Why must they reach out to employees? In a typical day, a senior executive only spends an average of less than 10 minutes in the presence of an employee who does not work for them. This is clearly not enough time to attempt to see the world through the employees’ eyes and ears or to gain their trust. Every executive should set a weekly goal of sitting down with at least 10 different employees from different parts of the organization.
Another tactic for leaders to engage with employees is to be a fly on the wall. In today’s modern organizations, work gets done in a matrix fashion, in task forces, in teams, and through projects. This serves to get people from different backgrounds and disciplines together in solving problems and capturing opportunities. This type of integration of people with different backgrounds allows for the sharing of ideas and soliciting multiple points of view.
By being a fly on the wall at these sessions, you gain valuable insight into tangible information about employees, their work, and what is going on. Assume you have a cross-functional task force that is hard at work solving a major problem that affects the whole company, and they have been meeting for months. You know who is on this team, but not personally. You decide to show up at their next meeting. The moment you enter the room, they will not know what to make of your visit. Employees will be nervous and hesitant. They will probably sit back with an expectation that you will tell them what you want or what they should be doing.
However, if you attend that same meeting several times as a silent observer and a nonparticipant, they will soon forget that you are there and will return to their normal operating style. In this tactic, the goal is for all executives to attend work meetings in as many parts of the organization as time allows. You show up to pay attention and listen and most importantly, to thank the employees for their hard work and contributions.
There is a truism in leadership which impacts the workplace, and is why you must not offer suggestions if you want to uncover what your employees really think: Once the senior leader in the room speaks, no one else will speak up.