Workplace ER: treating workplace ailments.
Symptoms: You ask your staff how things are going. Smiles, gentle nodding of heads, and general encouragement. Hmmm...this is puzzling...the numbers aren't good and judging by the turnover rate, staff are disengaged.
Diagnosis: Human beings have a very strong desire for safety. Unless your employees feel safe, they will continue to do what is natural; act in a way which presents them with the least risk. They will say the absolute minimum required to satisfy you and divert your attention elsewhere, and what they do say will likely bear no resemblance to the truth.
Solutions: Make your employees feel safe. If you are not regularly admitting your own mistakes and adopting an attitude of humility and service, you will not hear the real story.
Spend time with your employees…especially those at the ‘lower end’ of the organisation. Do it in their environment...not yours. Go and spend your next coffee break with the junior staff. Accept that it will take time for the ice to thaw, but once it does, you’ll find out about all the silos, communication issues and poor leadership inside your business.
Often those sitting around the boardroom table with you are concerned about their next promotion, and you won’t necessarily hear the ugly truth from them. You can continue to hire expensive consultants and carry out workplace surveys, but you won't get the full picture unless you spend time with your staff, and make them feel safe.
Herb Kelleher (former CEO of South West airlines) would regularly join baggage handlers whilst unloading an aircraft. After 10-20 minutes, the 'ice would thaw', and Herb would hear how the employees REALLY feel.
Needless to say, once an employee DOES offer up the ugly truth, applaud them for it. This information may save your business, or at least help to reduce turnover costs.
In summary: what your immediate subordinates tell you is probably a much rosier picture than reality. If you want the truth, make your workplace safe, and spend time with junior staff in their environment.