Dear Crucial Skills,
I have an employee who speaks up regularly and voices their opinion and proposes changes to the organization, but if those suggestions aren’t implemented, they get angry. What can I do?
One of the biggest challenges of leadership is creating a culture where employees feel safe to share their ideas, concerns, feedback, and suggestions. Many have worked for organizations where leaders talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. They ask their employees to speak up but seek only praise and approval themselves. So, first and foremost, I commend you for creating a space where your employee feels safe to share.
Great organizations develop employees by developing leaders. Leadership is more than a title, it’s a mindset. Joseph Grenny, coauthor of the New York Times bestseller Influencer, once defined leadership as “intentional influence.” Coauthor Kerry Patterson adds, “At the end of the day, what qualifies people to be called ‘leaders’ is their capacity to influence others to change their behavior in order to achieve important results.”
What you have is an employee who wants to be a leader. And you have an opportunity to help build one. It may be that your employee gets angry not because their ideas haven’t been implemented, but because they haven’t been validated. Let me share four ideas that can help you develop an influencer and manage employee contribution.
If you don’t want their ideas, don’t ask for them. Little contributes to a culture of silence more than insincerely soliciting feedback. So, if you already know what you’re going to do, be sure not to hold a perfunctory brainstorming session.
Also, some people want to be seen and heard, but everyone wants to be valued. Employees share their ideas to contribute value. If those ideas aren’t sincerely valued or appreciated, the employee won’t feel valued.
You can solicit ideas sincerely by making sure you focus less on being right, and more on getting it right. What I mean is don’t let the goal trump the process. When you get input and perspectives from others, you expand your pool of meaning, which leads to better decisions, actions, and results.
Make sure your employees understand that not all ideas can or will be implemented. Establishing proper expectations can help minimize frustration. Let employees know that while their ideas may not be implemented, they do inform the final decision. Their contributions may confirm current thinking or spark new ideas to a better course of action.
It’s important that employees know that while they may not be a part of the decision-making team, their contribution as part of the data stream is invaluable. They are often closest to the problems you are trying to solve. They understand the current reality best. Additionally, when employees serve as contributors, they are more likely to adopt the new solution (even if it’s not their own) and serve as champions to encourage others to do the same.
With limited insight into organizational constraints, employees often share ideas that are beyond the scope of what the organization can do. What resources are available? Is there a budget? What’s the timeframe or the level of quality required? Communicate your constraints so employees can offer suggestions and share ideas that work within them. When suggestions aren’t implemented, it’s generally not because they are bad, but because they are outside the constraints. Communicating constraints will lead to a greater chance of implementation. It also offers transparency and allows employees to see clear reasons should their ideas not be implemented.
More often than not, employees realize that all their ideas won’t be implemented. When people get frustrated or angry, it’s usually not about implementation but more likely because they feel their ideas were not considered. So when people contribute ideas, let them know where things stand. If their idea was not implemented, explain why. Remind them of the expectations that were established and the constraints that were shared.
Encouraging employee innovation and creativity is key for organizational success, as well as for engagement and retention. Managing the process can be challenging, but healthy organizations will always have more ideas than they can implement. Creating a process built on safety and rooted in sincere solicitations, established expectations, clear constraints and transparent results will aid your efforts.
All the best,