If your people are your “most important business resource”, why don’t you ask them what they think?

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Here’s a good business cliché, the sort that David Brent would use:

“Your people are your most important business resource.”

But if you look at how many businesses are run, you might assume that people are only a useful business resource because they are cheaper than robots. Work for a big company, and you might occasionally be asked to take part in an employee satisfaction survey which, after much paperwork and editing of spreadsheets will lead to insights such as “10% of junior employees don’t trust their boss, up from 8% two years ago”. Work for a smaller company, and you might see an old-fashioned suggestion box neglected in a corner of the office or factory (with a three-year-old piece of paper folded up inside asking for a better kettle for the kitchen).

Isn’t that a waste?

Don’t you think that maybe, just maybe, your people think about what they are doing and how they could do it better? Even better, maybe your people think about what you are doing and how you could do it better. Best of all, maybe your people think about what your organisation is doing and how it could do it better.

Have you asked them recently? (And no, an “employee satisfaction survey” doesn’t count.)

The chances are that a) one of your employees has an idea that would improve your company in some way and b) he or she hasn’t told it to you yet.

“But my door is always open”, you say, “and my employees know to come to me with any suggestions”. So ask yourself this – how many suggestions to improve the business do you get from employees knocking on your door?

There are many reasons why an employee with a great idea might not mention it to you directly, for example:

  • “What do I know? I’ve only been here a few months.”
  • “Why would he listen to someone as junior as me?”
  • “My line manager wouldn’t approve of me going over his head.”
  • “I’m too busy to do anything other than my ‘actual’ job.”
  • “I’m shy.”
  • “I’m not clever, so my idea can’t be that good.”
  • “I’m sure they’ve already thought of it.”
  • “What’s the point? They wouldn’t listen anyway.”
  • “What’s the point? I wouldn’t get any recognition for it.”
  • “I haven’t considered the detailed implications.”
  • “I can’t mention it to him when he is the problem!”

There are ways around many of these obstacles. Since people are often reluctant to speak out in front of their boss, why not ask a neutral third party to run a mixture of group sessions and interviews with staff to tease suggestions out? (We find that some people respond better to group discussions, while some are more comfortable in a 1:1 setting.) This is also a great way to find out how happy your employees really are with various aspects of their job.

Ultimately, why rely on one person (YOU!) to come up with all the ideas, when your “most valuable resource” already has those ideas?