John McKee shares his thoughts, including some from Tom Peters (idea no.10):
1: The anonymous hotline
Nowadays, hotlines can be e-mails, phones, or paper tools. However you do it, put something into place that allows people to provide candid, honest feedback or ask questions without fear of getting busted. I used a mailbox, kind of a “Dear John” thing, where people could ask questions or sound off and I’d reply to them.
2: Public communication tools
If you have a newsletter, use it to keep folks aware of what’s going on and to deal with rumors, which are harmful. Publish Q & A’s, based on questions you’ve heard through other means, such as your anonymous hotline.
Someone in your organization should be accessible to anyone who wants to make a point, ask a question, or sound off without fear of reprisal. Employees should know that what they say will be relayed to the head honcho. In some organizations, this is the HR person; in others, it may simply be someone who is trusted and respected by all involved. Just identify someone and let that person know that you need him or her to keep you in touch with things.
4: Anonymous surveys
As long as employees have no fear of being “caught,” surveys are great tools for getting your fingers on the pulse of the organization. But don’t over think them. They should be done quickly and fairly frequently. And have the guts to make the results public afterward. That shows the employee base that you’re aware of their concerns. If you can’t provide a fix, at least let them know that you care about the problem and will try to deal with it when you can.
5: Lunch with the leader
Periodically, have a lunch meeting with folks from all levels of the organization. Make it clear that there will be time at the end of it for a question-and-answer session if the group consists of more than 12 individuals. If the group is small, make a point to sit beside any quiet ones and encourage them to open up.
6: Visits to other departments, offices, or locations
The best way to open up communications is to show that you’re accessible and interested. I don’t care how often someone says they care about what’s going on in other locations. If they’re never there, they won’t hear enough.
7: Social events
Many people will tell you that there’s no such thing as a social / work event. They characterize the Holiday Party or the Summer Picnic as political affairs, and they’re probably right in many companies. But such events don’t have to be heartburn-inducing activities. If you use them as “skip-level” affairs, you’ll probably enjoy yourself and learn a ton about what your team members are really feeling. Make it a point to spend time with those at least two levels below you, tell your direct reports to do the same thing, and then compare notes back in the office.
8: Contrarian perspectives
When leaders allow themselves to hear only what they want to hear, people figure it out pretty quickly and clam up. If you show that you appreciate a healthy debate, you’re more likely to get differing ideas thrown about.
One of the founding senior execs at DIRECTV was famous for throwing Nerf footballs with anyone still in their cubes after 6pm or on Saturdays. It was a kind of jock thing, but even those less-than-jock types could throw the little soft football around. Sending a few lateral passes allowed time for a bit of bonding conversation and built trust between the leader and the team.
Tom Peters coined the term MBWA — “management by walking around” — back in the 80s. If you’re serious about wanting to encourage honest feedback and candid comments, read his writings. The premise of MBWA is that if you expose yourself to enough people enough of the time, you’ll hear things you might not otherwise have come across.