Guest post from Karin Hurt and David Dye:
You’ve asked your team for their great ideas.
In our research conducted in conjunction with the University of North Colorado, despite all the asking leaders think they’re doing, 49% of employees said the reason they’re not sharing their great ideas (to improve the customer experience, efficiency in a process, or employee engagement) is because no one asked.
Laura, an IT Vice President at a mid-sized energy company, was excited to spend some time with her teams, hold a few skip level meetings, and see their new system in action. Her team had been holding user-experience calls every week and all the feedback had been positive. She hoped to collect some great stories to share with the CEO about how the new system was making things easier for the customer service reps and, ultimately, for their customers.
Before her first meeting, Laura sat down with a customer service rep and asked the rep “Can you show me your favorite part of the new system?”
The rep attempted to pull up the first screen. But after five minutes they were both still staring at an hourglass and waiting for the page to load. The rep looked apologetically at Laura and said, “I’m sorry to waste your time. This usually takes a while.”
Laura’s jaw dropped. The vendor had promised the new system would be seven times faster – not slower. “Can you show me another page,” she asked.
She sat through another slow load time. She turned to the rep, “Is it always like this?”
“Oh, yeah. We’re used to it at this point, but the system has some other nice features.”
Laura thanked the rep and hurried to a quiet conference room where she could call her team. After ten minutes of testing, they realized that the center’s server didn’t have the capacity to run the new system. Hundreds of reps had been suffering through a ridiculous wait that wasted their time and their customers’ time.
Week after week, supervisors had sat on user experience calls, fully aware of the issue, and hadn’t said a word. No one had ever raised the issue.
After replacing the server and ensuring everything was back on track, Laura went back to the reps on the user experience team and asked why they had never brought this up.
“Well, no one ever asked us about the speed. Our boss told us that we needed to be “change agents” and role model excitement for the new system – no matter what. Under no circumstances were we to be negative. So, we just smiled, sucked it up, and dealt with it.”
Laura’s situation is far too common. The “no one asked” reply might be frustrating, but it is one of the most frequent obstacles to a Courageous Culture.
How to Ask Your Team For Their Great Ideas
If you want your teams great ideas, you need to do more than ask questions. That helps, but it’s not just that you ask. In Courageous Cultures, leaders ask regularly and skillfully. You ask in ways that draw out people’s best thinking, new ideas, and customer-focused solutions. Everyone knows that when you ask, you sincerely want to know and are committed to taking action on what you learn. Three qualities distinguish how leaders ask questions in a Courageous Culture: they are intentional, vulnerable, and action-focused.
Cultivating Curiosity starts with intention: you must ask—a lot. Your leaders have to ask more than might seem reasonable. This kind of asking goes way beyond an open-door policy. In fact, most open-door policies are a passive leadership cop-out. “I’m approachable. I have an open door,” puts the responsibility on the team, not the leader. That’s a problem because most of the ideas you need will never walk through your open door. There’s too much friction to overcome: time away from their normal work, not knowing how their manager will respond, or not even realizing they have an idea to share.
Have you ever watched a leader ask for feedback and then defensively justify their decisions and shoot down objections? When you ask questions that assume something needs to improve, you are more likely to get an honest response.
“What’s one thing that’s ticking off our customers?”
“What’s one policy driving everyone crazy?”
We’ve sat through strategic planning sessions and focus groups where leaders asked questions and everyone in the room knew that the answers didn’t matter. Sometimes, even when the leaders had good intentions, they lacked the ability or willingness to act on what they heard.
Your employees need to know that you will act on what you learn. Action takes many forms. It might be that you implement the idea, that the feedback informs your decision, that you take it all in and then respond with next steps, or maybe it’s simply releasing the team to take action on their ideas.
Karin Hurt and David Dye help leaders achieve breakthrough results without losing their
soul. They’re the founders of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm. They’re the award-winning authors of Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul. Karin is a top leadership consultant and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. David Dye is a former executive, elected official, and president of Let’s Grow Leaders. Karin and David are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.