by Cheryl Jekiel
You wouldn’t take a sledgehammer to your equipment, would you?
When you ask people for their thoughts and ideas and then mishandle them by not listening effectively or not utilizing them, it compares to taking a sledgehammer to your equipment.
An organization I worked with brought together a group of employees to surface ideas about solving a wide range of issues with work processes. They generated a lot of ideas, some of which were very good.
But upper management’s feedback was “Other priorities are more important than implementing these ideas.”
I watched as employees became deeply disillusioned, frustrated, and much less likely to want to participate in future changes because there was a lack of taking their ideas forward.
How did that happen? The people in a position to agree to the changes were uninvolved in the process improvement work that had employees generate ideas.
It does more damage than good if you ask people for their ideas and then don’t carefully tend to them. Tending to them doesn’t mean you have to say yes, but it means that you have to treat the person like you truly care that they’ve offered their thoughts. It also means being careful not to ask for suggestions when you don’t have a mechanism for addressing, managing, and utilizing them.
Misusing people’s ideas will hurt the morale of your business, but it’s rarely discussed how this aspect of lean can do real damage.
Often, this misuse comes without a lot of thought. It’s not malicious. It just comes from not paying attention. It comes when there is not an effective response to employee suggestions. Employees take it as a sign of disrespect and disregard.
In asking teams how they feel when this happens, they invariably state that they feel offended, hurt, and disillusioned, and voice other negative emotions.
Ineffective responses can look like:
• Dismissing an idea
• Not stopping what you’re doing to listen
• Saying “Here’s why that won’t work”
• Saying “We’ve done that before”
There are 3 important ways to tend to people’s suggestions with respect and care.
1. If you’re too busy to listen now, schedule a different time to review their thoughts.
2. Always make sure there is a thoughtful response. Consider asking questions to better understand the idea. Fully communicate your appreciation for the idea. If the idea is not feasible, be mindful of how your response will either encourage the person to suggest ideas in the future or cause them to keep it to themselves next time.
3. Try to find ways to utilize some aspect of their suggestion. When that happens, the first thing you can do is ask more questions about the idea. There may be another fruitful thought within their suggestion, so try something like “tell me more” or “what else do you think?” to show respect and tease out those potential gems.
Even when ideas aren’t feasible, you can often find some aspect of their suggestion to thread into an action plan. Just remember to be detailed and gentle when you explain this.
If lean activities are doing damage to the fabric of your organization, you need to find a way to change this dynamic.
The key is to be vigilant about tending to team members’ thoughts whenever they offer ideas. Check to see if there are problem solving teams raising ideas, suggestion boards, or other mechanisms throughout your organization and find out how they’re being supported.
If you want to receive any more suggestions, ensure that the people offering them know that you’ve heard them and are considering what to do. Feeling disrespected leads to disengagement, and no organization wants that.
How does your organization handle suggestions? Do you provide training for your leadership team on how to effectively respond to employee suggestions?
Chery Jekiel is the founder of the Lean Leadership Resource Center and author of the book “Lean Human Resources: Redesigning HR Practices for a Culture of Continuous Improvement.” She will lead an AME webinar “Innovative Approaches to Change Management” on Thursday May 17, which will explore strategies to improve any organization’s approach to successful change management. The webinar will include a discussion with Ron Oslin, who will share insights gained in his previous position as lead coach of the lean coaching team at Capital One and his experiences working with a number of other organizations through his organization, One System, One Voice, LLC. For more information about this webinar, visit http://bit.ly/2rvDRgM.