Workers who don't share ideas hurt their employers . . . and themselves
Workplace consultant and coach Robert Flower has blunt advice for employees who want to be more productive. "It is the responsibility of workers to tell their managers that they are stupid," he insists. "Who isn’t going to pay attention when they hear that?"
Flower really doesn’t intend to sound so incendiary. "Obviously, you can’t say it like that," concedes Flower, the New York-based author of Decoding Potential: Pathways to Understanding (Central Plains; $20).
"You have to find a way to show how changing your job makes sense for the company. Managers will listen to that and appreciate it."
In other words, actions and carefully crafted strategic plans speak louder than words when you’re trying to get the attention of the boss.
Flower believes that employees are the key to making better workplaces, but that they will have to step up to that responsibility.
"The whole notion of the boss and the employee that we have in America is polarizing, and it shouldn’t be," he asserts. "We view each other as the enemy."
A recent study by professors from Harvard Business School and Pennsylvania State University found that workers are not encouraged to speak up or communicate ideas on the job. The result, according to the study, is that employers don’t get to share in valuable employee knowledge and experience that would make their companies operate more efficiently.
Afraid to Come Forward
Workers, the study continues, often make a worst-case risk assessment of speaking up, and determine that their psychological and material well-being are more important than helping to make the company better. They are afraid for their livelihood should they speak up.
Flower believes workers need to be engaged in their jobs and motivated to be more productive. He places the responsibility on individual workers to detect problems, develop plans to correct them and then sell the plans to their managers.
"Unfortunately, most workers think they are only responsible for what’s on their desk," he alleges. "A lot of them don’t want the responsibility for making better companies."
Duncan Mathison, managing director of executive coaching in the Western states for outplacement firm Drake Beam Morin, thinks that many workers don’t possess all the tools needed to accomplish this. "Many many great ideas die in our workplaces because of the failure of people to communicate those ideas effectively to their supervisor. It doesn’t matter whether it is the rank-and-file employee trying to communicate with the mid-level manager, the mid-level manager trying to communicate an idea to an executive, or the president of the company dealing with the board. It’s just not easy for some people."
Companies are interested in solutions to their problems, but Mathison feels workers must learn more about how to present ideas that are worthwhile and relevant to their supervisors.
"A lot of times people are unsuccessful because they don’t understand how their managers are being measured and rewarded," he figures. "That’s a good conversation to have with your supervisor because it will help you understand what will make them respond."
The Peer Approach
He also thinks that engaged workers who look upon supervisors as peers can wipe away the intimidation that holds back others.
Flower suggests that workers be more methodical about how they approach dealing with their boss. They need to understand their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as be able to demonstrate how their ideas fit into the corporate mission. His book offers exercises to help develop those skills.
Flower describes this as the worker being part of something rather than just a part.
"If you are seen as a committed employee, the boss will pay attention," he advises. "But don’t expect this to be easy. The best way to change anybody or anything is to come to them with a solution to their problem that makes the company better.
"One thing in the world we all share is problems. There can be no argument there," Flower concludes. "But a lot of people with answers don’t give themselves enough credit. They need to figure out how to make sure somebody hears their ideas."