How do you communicate concerns and ideas for improvement? How does the work environment and corporate culture facilitate freely sharing ideas or concerns? The answer to these two questions should be on the lips of every employee, from the CEO and down. As a challenge to your company I suggest you create a questionaire that would reveal if your employees know the answers to these two questions.
Some people have a knack at recognizing existing problems or predicting future problems. Their ability usually is enforced by experience that they have in the area. Many of us can identify a problem with our automobile and even be very precise about the problem but lack the ability to fix the problem or even suggest a possibly remedy.
When a problem has been recognized a resolution must be discovered. The resolution may be that you avoid the problem altogether or the resolution may be that something is changed. I don't think ignoring a problem should be considered as a type of resolution.
For example suppose that you manage a race car team and that every May at Daytona your car's air intake gets clogged with insects. You could alter the situation so that the problem can not surface by not racing your car during the month of May at Daytona. Or you could solve the problem by replacing your current air intake with one that is modified so that insects can not clog it. Ignoring the problem would not win any races.
The resolution of a problem requires an understanding far greater than that of recognition. Expertise and experience in the field in which the problem exists is required.
Communication of Concerns and Ideas
The first question introduced is how do you communicate concerns and ideas for improvement. The "how" suggests what medium is used. But let's get to that in a moment. The first things are what are you going to communicate and to whom.
First make sure what you are communicating as a problem really is a problem. If the things you perceive as problems are not really problems then people will not treat your communications with urgency. Problems have severity and the level of severity needs to be estimated. A problem with a computer game may be an annoyance but a problem with a heart monitor could be fatal.
Next you need to decide to whom to communicate the problem. If the severity of the problem is low enough then telling your immediate manager might suffice. If the problem is sufficiently severe then you should tell you manager and his manager at the same time. Notice that there is no end-run-around.
Finally how do you communicate a problem? The severity also should come into consideration. If the problem is severe or complicated then a letter, email, or some traceable medium should be used in conjunction with a face-to-face meeting. Traceability or paper-trails are useful in documenting the situation.
Collaborative Corporate Culture
The second question introduced by this paper is how does the work environment and corporate culture facilitate freely sharing ideas or concerns. The answer to this question is complex and requires the right culture and environment. The Maverick principles in hiring play a role in this as well as the Maverick principle that all salaries are company knowledge. Also, the Maverick principles concerned with the review process are part of the culture necessary for an open and collaborative environment.
If you have a culture where politics is a problem and people are defensive and distrustful then you will never have efficient communication. Too many factors will come into play that will bias the recognition, resolution, or communication of any problem. Manipulation will become part of every conversation. Coup d'etats and end-run-arounds will be the methods used. Each resolution will be preceded with "poisoning the well" against any other resolution that another may present. I dare say, if you think you are experiencing these behaviors then your probably have a serious situation.
To create the right culture the top of the company must open up and share the information and must demonstrate trust with the employees. One way to do this is to have company wide knowledge of all salaries. Think about it this way, if the knowledge of a salary would upset the workforce in such a way that production would drop then the question is what is wrong with the salary and the question is not what is wrong with the employees.
In the Maverick hiring process people are selected that work well in a collaborative environment. During the hiring process all of the candidates are brought together to present their solution to a problem that was presented to them in advance. Each candidate presents their solution and comments on the solutions from the other candidates. Most everything you need to know concerning a persons knowledge, presentation skills, ability to take criticism, ability to give criticism, and ability to work with others will be manifested. Through this process you will hire people that know how to communicate.
Through the Maverick review process people that are too political, that are empire builders, or that are heroes will be identified early and they will not be rewarded for such behavior. Those guilty of such offenses will either change or be fired in very short order. By removing these types of people others can communicate freely without the fear that someone will try to use some means against them.
Also the Maverick principle of the emergent work methodology can be seen as the results of a collaborative corporate culture. If the teams organize and re-organize themselves and their way to do the job in ways that are more efficient then you have succeeded!
Some people are good at recognizing problems and others are good at resolving problems. The communication of problems is essential for a company to be successful. If your company suffers from coup d'etats and end-run-arounds then you probably have a severe problem. Through the sharing of salaries, the hiring process, and the review process a culture will come about that gives way to collaboration naturally and without the need of managing it into existence.