Your employees may be able to tell you a lot about your business you may not know. What do customers really think about your product or service? Are there more complaints (or less) than usual? What could be done to improve sales, marketing and customer service?
It seems simple enough just to ask the people who work for you, “What’s going on and how can we improve?” and expect an honest answer. But, due to the nature of the boss-employee relationship, things don’t always work that way.
Employees rely upon you for their livelihood, so they are less likely to speak truthfully. Non-candid feedback is meaningless, and will not help you run your company more effectively.
So how do you get people to open up? Here are four tips to nudge them toward sharing creative suggestions for growing the business:
1. Share the big picture.
If employees don’t understand the financial state of your business — and what you’ve
got planned for the future — it’s difficult for them to offer useful feedback. Take every
opportunity to share information about the business, both successes and setbacks, so
they have a better sense of how their knowledge and creativity might help spur growth.
2. Actively encourage participation.
There are plenty of ways to encourage employees to share their ideas for improving the company:
• Have an “open door policy” (at least during part of the work week).
• Hold occasional brainstorming sessions outside of the workplace.
• Put up a suggestion box.
• Create a “shopping list” of topics you’d like to see addressed and invite employees to offer comments and suggestions.
Encourage employee participation by communicating the benefits of their ideas to your organization, your customers, as well as employees themselves. Make it clear there’s no such thing as a bad idea. Employees (like just about everyone else) are generally risk-averse. An idea could mean they will have to explain it, give a presentation, or risk difficult questions on unfamiliar topics.
Some employee ideas may be game-changers. Some will result in only marginal improvement. Others will simply fall flat. You must make it clear that, regardless of the outcome, there’s no penalty for sincerely offered ideas that fail to move the needle.
3. Reward your employees’ creativity.
Whether an idea results in explosive growth or simply helps overcome a minor operational
hurdle, people are more forthcoming when some type of reward is involved. Always start
with a publicly delivered “thank you” to everyone who offers suggestions. Other low-cost
rewards might include an extra day off, special notice at a staff meeting, a coffee shop or
movie gift card, a free car wash, or a company-hosted lunch at a local restaurant.
The trick to giving your people rewards that make a real difference is to personalize them.
4. Get to know your team.
Encouraging open communication and rewarding ideas for improvement to your business cannot be a one-size-fits-all type of reward. Take a few minutes each week to connect with your employees. Personal interaction and knowing what motivates your employees will make your rewards effective.