If you want to have an open work culture and a respectful workplace, or if you’re trying to get employees to come to you with problems or opportunities, the first thing you need to do is listen.
I can’t emphasize how important this is.
After you’ve listened, ask questions so that you understand exactly what they’re saying. Then take 24 hours to respond—if possible—so that you have time to really absorb what they’ve said. With all of your personal strength, resist the urge to shut anyone down, or they’ll never come back to you with their problems or suggestions on how to make your company better.
When I was COO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, we worked hard to foster an open work culture and build real trust between one another. Our bond was so strong that at our daily seven-minute huddle meeting, we finished by asking, “Are there any missing systems or key frustrations?” People would usually give honest feedback about something that could be improved. However because of the way we phrased it, employees felt safe enough in that environment to speak openly about problems or areas of concern so that they could make the situation better. We all knew it was a no blame environment.
You are never immune to failure—sometimes things just don’t work. As an entrepreneur running a healthy business, your challenge isn’t to dread those inevitable failures, but to implement processes that help you deal with them so that they ultimately make your business stronger.
The E-Myth, a book by Michael Gerber teaches that people don’t fail, systems do. We reinforced that message so well that people were willing to point out what was broken because they knew that they wouldn’t get fired for giving feedback. If something was broken, it was likely a missing system, not one person’s failure.
Communication thrives when information and feedback can flow freely without fear. People want to be heard—listened to–and require thoughtful responses, not curt, corporate-speak. In the end, this combination of listening, openness and trust will be the best way to achieve the kind of communication that will make your business a wild success.