Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cynical employees don't share quality ideas because they don't expect anyone to hear them

At the end of the first class of all the courses I teach, I ask students to write any questions they have regarding the course topic (management, leadership, business, etc.). Usually, students will write things like, "how do I motivate others?" or "how do I get senior leadership to buy into my ideas?"

Their questions help me remember students as individuals, understand what is important to them, and respond to their specific needs. I email an answer to all questions within 24 hours.

Yesterday I received 3 questions that were so broad and/or vague as to be unanswerable. I emailed the 3 students stating this, and discovered that while one person wasn't paying attention when he wrote his question, the other 2 never expected me to read their questions. In fact, one person wrote, "Im surprised that you actually took the time to read our questions. I was going to put gibberish on the sheet at first, since these things are usually left unanswered thus figuring it would never be read."

Gibberish! My first thought is, why would an instructor bothering asking students to write something down that he never intended to read? What would be the purpose of the use of class time and paper? My second thought was, this student assumes his instructors are not reading his work (whether they are or not, we'll never know) based on their inaction.

What's even more interesting is that I'd spent some of our class time discussing the criticality of management follow-up: when managers ask for employees' input on decisions, they must share the decision taken with the employees. They should thank them for their original input and, if it wasn't taken, explain why. Otherwise, the employees will assume the manager is giving lip-service to participative management.

Don't ask a question if you don't intend to listen to the answer.

For these two students, my words about follow-up could not be heard over their (louder) experience of not being listened to.

Do you take the time to listen to your employees? How do you find the time to respond to all their questions, and provide feedback on their ideas? How often do you communicate your organization's and/or work group's purpose and how does this communication influence how your employees commit to that purpose?

While it feels like a poor use of time, we must take into account employees'/students' cynicism and take the time to overcome it with each new person with whom we work. For, why would this manager, when at work or in class, bother to provide well thought-through, clearly articulated ideas to or ask specific questions of a manager who isn't going to listen anyway?

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