Why your staff won’t tell you what’s wrong with your business

People within your business probably know what’s wrong with it, how to improve it, and how to make it more profitable. Yet, they don’t let you know what problems your business has and how to fix them, even if they believe they have valuable information.

Why is that?

Let’s break this down into sections and see what’s going on here.

There are some things within your business that your staff know could be improved upon

These can be from small elements they know could be improved upon such as processes you use or the structure in which you carry out something or the quality of something. Or they can be bigger things such as missed opportunities for significantly increasing profits within your market place or working within new marketplaces.

Let’s go back to the simple things for a moment.

Let’s say that a member of your team knows that the process they are carrying out in dealing with customer complaints is ineffective. They know that the process focuses more on recording the problem, taking down as much information as possible, but doesn’t make the customer feel, well, loved and cared for. They know that most of the information is neither needed nor used, and in fact by collecting it customers are usually more irritated than feeling listened to.

Yet even though they know it doesn’t work, the staff member continues to carry out that process, even though in their view it’s pointless and potentially adding to the frustrations of customers. WHAT!

Indeed the more they carry out this process, the more it annoys them as well as the customer, and the longer this goes on for the less likely they are to let you know this process is not a good idea and could be doing more harm than good.

Why don’t staff tell you what’s wrong?

The main issue here is mind-set, their mind-set about what they believe is likely to happen if they bring this issue to your attention.

First off if they tell you they are doing something that’s not a good idea, how does that sound? You see they have been doing something for some time even though they know it’s not the best idea, knowing that it wastes times, aggravates the situation, and doesn’t add value.

Their worry, and possibly rightly so is that you as the leader or manager are going to ask them “why didn’t you tell me this before”.

Now you believing that as a manger you won’t say that doesn’t mean your team member will know you won’t. Because the reality is you properly will. Their fear is you might say something on the lines of “why didn’t you tell me sooner, what stopped you from letting me know earlier, etc.” and you probably will.

That concern they have is real. They feel the potential implications of informing you but may not be informing you in a timely manner and that has now become a longer term or more deeply rooted problem.

Secondly, if it is a new thing they are involved with, maybe they have moved to a new department or are new in post. Again they will be anxious about mentioning it in case you may turn around and say something like, “You’re new here, you don’t have the experience we have, you don’t understand, or the classic we have always done it this way”.

Again, they don’t know you will say this, they just believe you might or you are likely to based on their previous experience of working with you or others in the past.

Our brain get’s in the way

You see our brain makes decisions based on what we believe to be true or likely to happen, not just on what it knows to be true. Let’s take this as an example. Your boss asks you to give a presentation at the staff conference. Your brain starts considering the implication of this based on your previous limited experience of giving a presentation. Your experience of giving a presentation was at a small team meeting where you don’t feel it went well, no one said this to you – you just feel it. Plus you heard that one of the employees once presented at the staff conference and they got fired the week after. Extreme I know, but let’s go with this. Now your brain mixes up all this information and gives you the idea that you are likely to fail at giving the presentation. This is not based on fact, but what you believe to be true. This is about your mind-set taking over and forcing you to make a decision based on partial information or what it thinks is right.

Sometimes our decisions are based on what we think might happen. These thoughts are effected by what we think we have heard or seen regarding similar past situations.Click To Tweet

In fact staff regularly tell me they don’t tell managers about problems because they worry about what’s going to be said, even though those worries are based on no solid evidence of what’s actually happened in the past. Rather it’s what they think might have happened before or what might happen this time. They don’t actually know what’s going to be said so rather than risk it they don’t tell you in case you see it as them complaining or pointing out your failings as a manager.

That’s why you don’t learn what’s wrong

Likewise when they see an opportunity that could benefit the business or when they see something that could be altered or improved upon they worry about the consequences of that too.

It is their mind-set or belief that something could happen that holds them back from keeping you informed and aware of problems.

Additionally some people are held back because you might turn around as the leader or manager and say fine, now you have brought this to my attention you fix it. Just because they are aware of a problem, does not mean they have the skills and/or resources to fix it.

People avoid raising a concern or pointing out a failure because of what it might lead to

How to encourage staff to share concerns

First off we need to change how we react when people actually raise a concern, highlight a problem, or come to us as leaders and managers with possible ideas. We need to make it clear how this will be handled in a positive way. Indeed you need to find a way of inviting people in with their concerns and ideas – explaining you want to work with them to fix the problems?

When people come up with a concept or idea, we need to mitigate any risk for them in advance so they feel more able to come forward with their thoughts and ideas. So here’s what you can do as a manager:

  • React in a more positive way to people coming forward
  • Thank people for bringing concerns, ideas etc. to you
  • Ask for more information so you can understand the whole picture
  • Discuss what we (as a team) can do to resolve the problem
  • Ask if they have any previous experiences of doing it differently
  • Get your team to consider how other people handle similar things
  • Offer the employee to be involved or not in solving the problem they have raised
  • Give the employee the opportunity to head up the team to fix the problem or be part of the team – their choice
  • Avoid phrases like “how are you going to do that”, “we tried that before”
  • Encourage sharing of suggestions and consider them as a team
  • Set up suitable structured opportunities for people to share ideas
  • Ensure stories about previous bad experiences are clarified and good experiences are shared.
  • Help your staff to feel more involved, more connected and more willing to let you know what’s wrong with your business and how to fix it.

Your main aim as the leader or manager is to provide opportunities for your team to share ideas, raise issues and discuss opportunities in a structured and safe way. Because they might be worth playing with discussing more and seeing if they lead on to developing something different or new.

There are lots of other ways of getting your staff more involved and engaged in enterprising projects in your business and if you would like to hear more about that either follow me on LinkedIn, twitter, or contact me for more information about my workshops and conference sessions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *