Blog Post

Your Employees' Inability to Speak Up Is Costing Your Business Big Money

Suzanne Lucas

Founder, Evil HR Lady

Open door policies are pretty ubiquitous, but simply having the policy doesn't mean people will actually speak their minds. Your employees aren't telling you everything they should and it's costing you—$7,500 per conversation failure and seven work days—according to a new study led by best-selling authors Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield.

That's what the lack of open communication costs you, and here's why:

  • One in three employee say their culture does not promote or support holding crucial conversations.
  • Only 1 percent report feeling extremely confident voicing their concerns in crucial moments.
  • 40 percent estimate they waste 2 weeks or more ruminating about the problem

Stop and think about these numbers. If only 1 percent feel "confident in voicing their concerns in crucial moments" that means 99 percent of your employees do not feel confident.

The Power of Communication

Sometimes, that can literally be the difference between life and death. Malcom Gladwell found that a lack of confidence in challenging your superiors led to Korean Air having numerous crashes. He writes:

Korean Air had more plane crashes than almost any other airline in the world for a period at the end of the 1990s. When we think of airline crashes, we think, Oh, they must have had old planes. They must have had badly trained pilots. No. What they were struggling with was a cultural legacy, that Korean culture is hierarchical. You are obliged to be deferential toward your elders and superiors in a way that would be unimaginable in the U.S.

Because the co-pilots were culturally mandated to defer to their captains, they didn't speak up and the results were literally deadly. Once Korean Air found out, they were able to address it and solve the problem.

Do you have this same problem in your business? What happens when someone challenges senior management? Are the immediately shut down and pushed to the side? Is questioning the VP a career death sentence?

You may think that it's not a problem, but the next time you're in a meeting with several layers of staff pay attention. Who is doing all the talking? Is it the senior people? Are the junior people just nodding along and taking notes?

If so, you've got a problem. If a junior person dares speak up, are his or her ideas dismissed? If so, you've got an even bigger problem.

Yes, it's true that the newbie straight out of grad school will think she knows what she's talking about and doesn't, but if you get in the habit of just shutting everyone down, you'll miss out on ideas and train everyone to keep quiet.

Welcome Ideas from Everyone

The last thing any business needs is to dismiss ideas that could help a company grow and develop. You want ideas. You can look at them and dismiss them later if they don't pan out.

Additionally, communication is stifled when people don't treat each other respectfully. We sometimes call this lack of respect "bullying," although it doesn't have to reach that level to cause havoc in your company. Just having a peer not doing his or her work can cause problems within a department. While you don't want to encourage your team to become a bunch of tattle-tales, if someone comes to you and says, "Jane is not doing her work and it's impacting my ability to do my work," you need to listen.

Treat people with respect. Listen to what they have to say. Address problems when they come up and you'll save your company time, money and perhaps come up with some great new ideas.

Photo: Twenty20

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