Employee silence, an innovation killer

Karen Walker
Aug 2, 2018 · 3 min read

Employee silence occurs when employees make conscious decisions to not provide information, opinions and feedback, raise issues or make suggestions. It can occur for a number of reasons, such as a belief that providing an idea or feedback is futile as it will be ignored, or a fear that expressing a view differing from that of colleagues or management risks professional relationships, job opportunities and security.

Whatever the reasons if employee silence is pervasive so too is a level of disengagement that inhibits business risk identification and resolution, and limits collaboration and diversity of ideas. Negatively impacting morale and how strongly employees identify with their organisation and its customers. All of which are major barriers to continual improvement and innovation.

So what can organisations do to remove barriers to benefiting from their employees’ diverse perspectives, knowledge and ideas, and position meaningful critical and creative thinking at its core?

A fable about customer and employee experience

This is a story with a happy ending, about a fictional organisation reaping the rewards of making customer experience at the heart of its strategies, products and services. Armed with the knowledge that the economic benefits of innovation were undeniable, it made sense to also invest in making its’ employee experience central to working for their organisation. On the basis those experiences human beings have positive memories of, whether in the role of a customer or employee, they will most likely seek to repeat. The organisation keen to ensure their employees being innovative in thinking and actions became the norm not the exception.

Stacked with existing capability and knowledge in understanding and measuring customer experience, and using these insights to inform their design of products, customer interactions and service delivery, their approach was simple. To apply the same customer experience principles and approaches to design the experiences of their employees.

The organisation moved away from their traditional engagement surveys and approaches that measured and captured employee feedback against a defined set of performance metrics once or twice a year. Instead utilising a suite of technology, apps, tools, channels, forums and processes to capture employee feedback and insights. Asking employees about what really mattered to them and gaining deep insights into why. Recognising that as needs and experience of their employees change over time so would their level of engagement with the organisation, they captured employee insights and feedback continuously, as well as at important interactions and moments in time.

The organisation was surprised to discover that for many employees, their experience of voicing an opinion, coming up with left field ideas and raising risks and issues, wasn’t a positive one. That what really mattered and was infrequently experienced, was being intellectually engaged in ways that made their work and contributions feel meaningful and valued.

So how did this organisation achieve a happy ending to their story?

Just as they dramatically changed their thinking around what customer centricity meant in terms of their capability and actions, they realised being employee centric was also mindshift change. Moving from the management of ‘human resources’ or ‘people and culture’, to a core capability in creating employee experiences that are mutually beneficial to employees and the business. For the organisation in this story, it was about cultivating collaboration, openness and psychological safety for employees to express views about their experiences, and co-design improvements. A culture which also fostered meaningful critical and creative thinking and collaboration on solving customer problems and designing innovative customer services and products.

Being innovative isn’t an outcome of an innovation strategy, its one of many benefits of a healthy culture

Often identified as a key strategy for organisations, innovation in itself isn’t a strategy. Creating an open, trust based and psychologically safe culture encourages speaking up and collaborating on innovative tactics and design of solutions, products and services to achieve an organisation’s strategic aspirations. Where innovation becomes an intrinsic core capability.

A version of this originally published on LinkedIn on September 1, 2018

Karen Walker

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all about: change, transformation & healthy workplace cultures | social responsibility, humanity & diversity | successful, adaptive organisations

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