Regardless of our role, we all want to work with people who truly value our input. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to craft workplaces which promote a “speak up culture” where everyone feels supported enough to express their opinions, and where they can be confident that their contributions are being heard and recognized.

The most successful organizations are those where employees feel empowered to speak up and express their views, ideas, and concerns, but most employees choose to stay silent.

Why is this? What can we, as leaders, do to foster a company culture that encourages our employees to speak their minds and feel comfortable sharing their ideas and concerns?

Below are some of the areas I encourage East Tenth Group’s clients to consider when assessing whether their company culture is hurting or helping their employees feel empowered enough to speak up:

Two Perspectives to Consider

There are two ways to frame this challenge, one is the personality perspective, which suggests that employees inherently do not have the disposition to speak up about their issues and concerns.

This perspective assumes that employees are too timid, shy, or introverted to “stand up” and share their views with the rest of the team.

Conversely, the situational perspective suggests that employees fail to speak to because they believe that their organization is not supportive of hearing their thoughts. They may feel afraid of being penalized for challenging their bosses, and will keep their thoughts and opinions to themselves as a result.

In most cases, organizations suffer from a combination of both of these issues: their current staff do not feel comfortable speaking up, and as a result the organization has no incentive to develop a culture which encourages it.

However, it’s not enough to simply identify the cause that’s preventing your employees from lending their voices to a discussion. As leaders, we need to take proactive steps to build the kind of company culture that fosters inclusion and supports speaking up.

How to Empower Employees to Speak Up

If you’re concerned that your employees don’t feel empowered to speak up and share their thoughts with you, I suggest applying these tactics to begin shifting your company culture into a supportive and inclusive space:

Hire Proactive Employees 

One of the fastest ways to begin building a company culture founded on speaking truth to power is to hire individuals who exhibit proactive tendencies.

When hiring, seek out individuals who have strong personalities, and who are comfortable sharing their opinions respectfully and with regularity. Make it clear in your interviews that you value employee input, and that you reward feedback and innovative ideas.

However, as we discussed in our webinar “Maximizing Team Collaboration and Effectiveness” it’s important to remember that despite your best efforts it’s unlikely that you will wind up with a company full of vocal employees who feel comfortable sharing their thoughts at a moment’s notice.

To this end, leaders must continue to find ways to engage with quieter employees. Make a point to note which employees are more, or less, vocal, and engage with quieter team members in one on one feedback sessions, and encourage them to utilize any “anonymous reporting” systems already in place for feedback within you company. You can also intentionally call on them in group settings – and give them time to articulate their point of view.

Are you ready to start creating a company culture that encourages employees to speak up and take action? Our free ebook, “Leading Teams” has the actionable advice you need. Download your copy today.

Have Monthly “Successes & Challenges”

Use these monthly meetings to model the behavior you want to see: initiate the discussion by sharing something that went wrong, what your role was, what you learned, and what was done to resolve the issue or minimize the damage.

Prior to these meetings, ask one or two colleagues to follow up your story by sharing their own mistakes. This creates a psychological safety net for employees where they can feel comfortable sharing their own mistakes and engaging in discussions with management about how to overcome professional challenges.

Build Diverse Teams

At East Tenth Group, we believe that diversity is critical for organizational success. Not only have studies proven that racially diverse teams outperform non-diverse ones by 35%, but gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to earn above-average revenue.

Putting a focus on building gender and racially-diverse teams within your organization sets a tone for effective communication and speaking up because it ensures that your workplace is inclusive by default.

Pay Attention to Data

Most companies have an “anonymous reporting” system where employees can submit feedback and concerns without the worry of repercussions from management. To develop a better understanding of the issues that are the biggest concern to your staff, take a sample of 100 reports and identify five “indicators of retaliation” such as annual review ratings, shift and overtime allocation, pay, bonuses, etc.

Then, identify the similarities between all of the reports and use the commonalities to come up with proactive solutions. For example, you may discover that some senior managers have a tendency to bring retaliatory environments with them as they are promoted or move to new roles within the organization.

Creating a Company Culture Primed for Success

Empowering employees to speak up and share their concerns and feedback with leadership is critical for any organization’s long-term success. By taking the steps outlined above, you can begin to build an inclusive workplace that thrives thanks to ongoing input at all levels.

If you’re ready to start taking steps to enhance your leadership capabilities and lead by example, I suggest taking our Balanced Leadership™ Assessment. This assessment is based on our Balanced Leadership™ Programs, which were carefully designed to help CEOs and other organizational leaders identify areas of improvement and provide them with a clear path forward.

If you’ve been struggling create a company culture where employees feel empowered to speak up, I encourage you to contact my team contact my team and I at East Tenth Group today.


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