Just because we educate employees on how to escalate a concern, it does not mean they will have the courage to do so. We need to appreciate the powerful force of social influence. In this video, David Maxfield and Joseph Grenny explain the power of having just one person in a group speak up in dissent. They suggest that we express our disagreement using polite doubt.
How can we get employees to speak up when they see risky behavior? Here are some actions we can take to reduce an organization’s Power Distance Index:
- Set a clear expectation that everyone (even the most junior employee) is empowered to speak up whenever something doesn’t seem right.
- Look for opportunities to positively reinforce this behavior when it is observed. Communicate the importance of doing this by citing examples or telling stories of others who spoke up – thus preventing a decision or action that otherwise would have resulted in a negative outcome.
- Be a role model for how to receive feedback. Publicly praise anyone who voices a concern. This is especially critical if this person questions a decision or expresses an opinion that is counter to the majority view.
- Provide training on how to raise and quickly escalate a concern, à la the crew resource training method used by the airline industry. Standardize the way employees can respectively disagree or pose a question when there is a hierarchy that may inhibit the behavior to speak up. Teach the concept of disagreeing through polite doubt.
- Enlist opinion leaders in the effort to make “speaking up” an accepted and expected behavior. These are people who are “respected and connected” in the organization. However, they may not have any formal authority. If you can get this group to speak up, it sends a signal to others that it is an acceptable norm.
- Facilitate a discussion about this topic in natural work groups. Have them commit to one another that (a) they will speak up and (b) they will listen when anyone questions a decision or believes that situation is not safe.
We cannot achieve a zero event work place unless we create an environment where employees are watching out for one another. But simply watching is not enough. We need everyone to be comfortable enough to take action and speak up when they see anyone taking an unnecessary risk – every time!