Clichéd as it may sound, there’s never been a more important time for organisations to give their employees a genuine voice and a seat at the decision table. Whilst that’s my opinion, let me back it up with some undisputable and clearly observable facts from current trends:
#1 Growth in the gig economy is accelerating exponentially
Whilst it’s hard to categorise precisely who the ‘gig’ cohort are, the general predictions are that over half of the American workforce and a third of the UK workforce will be self-employed by 2023. In fact, the TUC have confirmed that the gig economy in Britain has doubled over the last three years and now accounts for 4.7 million workers. With flexibility and working from anywhere taking such a giant leap during the pandemic the worlds workforce has jumped at the opportunity to liberate themselves of traditional ways of working putting ever more pressure on driving workforce culture.
#2 The fight for talent is on as businesses bounce back
Don’t be fooled into thinking that mass redundancies and business closures have poured talent into the recruitment pool, there is what’s being referred to as a ‘great war for talent’ in the post COVID world as businesses scale up and fight for the best candidates, putting pressure on employers to have great employee value propositions and the best possible employer brand reputations.
#3 The mental health crisis is inextricably linked to employee empowerment
The looming mental health crisis is well documented but what is less well-talked about is the link between mental health and good workforce culture and employee voice specifically. Empowering employees to have a voice, be heard and be able to control their environments is critical to maintaining a healthy environment for mental wellbeing.
#4 Social purpose and the demand for meaningful work is growing at pace
And finally, even with great culture, more than pre-pandemic, individuals need to feel that they’re making a difference to something they feel passionate about. Meaningful work isn’t about being a doctor or working as a great charity it’s about seeing the value and contribution you can make in the role you play in your organisation. The role itself doesn’t have the be the fulfilling element but knowing that as a result of that role, you’re able to improve the voice of under-represented groups like LGBTQ+ through being asked to support a diversity forum helps bring meaning and purpose to the job.
Ok great, so it’s important to enable our employees to speak up and help them be heard, taking their valuable contributions and feeding that into continual improvement across the business. As a new manager, how on earth do you balance the needs of senior leaders telling you what they want, with what feels like narrow parameters with the views of your team who often have valid reasons behind what they want or how they see things. Suddenly the management role feels more like the role of piggy in the middle surrounded by differing opinions.
Well there’s good news and bad….
The bad news is there’s no magic book that tells you how to ‘do’ management and in many cases some of the older more traditional books on management may even send you down a path to a management style that is no longer fit for purpose today.
But, the good news is that what’s required of you as a manager in today’s world and into the future is to be yourself. That’s good news because hopefully you’ve been practicing that your whole life!
Here are some specific tips to help you develop a leadership style that’s comfortable and authentic to your own personality and that gives your employees a genuine voice.
#Tip 1 Be a leader not a manager
You may have been given a management title but what’s really being asked of you is likely to be leadership. A leader understands that it’s their job to motivate, inspire and empower their team to follow them, delivering results together as a team, whilst a manager typically administers, organises and controls. Taking a more leadership approach to management helps encourage employee voice and teamwork.
#Tip 2 Form adult:adult relationships with your team not parent:child
In keeping with the above, it’s very easy for a manager to adopt a parent role, treating their teams as though they can’t be trusted to think or make decisions for themselves, protecting them from or sugar-coating difficult messages from senior leaders or not sharing the bigger picture rationale for changes in the business. This is a dangerous path and pushes more burden and responsibility to the manager, removing not only voice but accountability and empowerment from employees.
#Tip 3 Adapt your leadership style to each occasion
Whilst you might be trialling new leadership styles to work out what your natural style is it’s important to understand that the most effective leaders dip in and out of different styles according to the context, for example when managing change, fast growth or with a newly formed team they might take a more directive approach than when nurturing innovation where they might use a more participative style. In order to encourage employee voice, you’ll need to consider adopting a style that enables collaboration.
#Tip 4 Get up close and personal (but not physically!)
If you’ve been promoted from within a team it can be hard to set the boundaries between boss and friend or colleague but you won’t be able to support and tune into the needs of your team if you don’t find time to understand them. Get to know what they’re trying to achieve, their personal circumstances, where they want to be in the future and what they’re passionate about, to give them that crucial voice.
#Tip 5 Make time to tune in
At the heart of the management role is making time for your team, being accessible and visible. Schedule time to physically (or virtually) walk the floor (in the remote working environment this can be replaced with informal personal reach outs to team members to check in with them e.g. ‘how’s your week been?’). Have regular, formal 1-2-1’s and team catch ups or briefings. All these forums are vital to connecting and listening to your team.
#Tip 6 Respect diversity of opinion and approach
As a manager your job is not to create a series of clones of yourself, that might sound obvious but managers do inadvertently adopt this approach. It’s important to understand from the outset that what makes your team great is their diversity of approach, opinions, strengths and experiences. To harness this strength you need to be open to these differences, a simple example will often be clear in your team meetings. Some of your team will quickly speak up, offer you suggestions and appear the most engaged while others stay quiet. Don’t assume this is because they’re not engaged or don’t have opinions or ideas, they just may need to be asked in a quieter, more 1-2-1 environment or they may need time to digest the question before they feedback.
#Tip 7 Sign post is well when you want input
There are always going to be times when the business needs you to do something and there’s little wriggle room for bargaining, that’s life, but there are other times when there is room for input or feedback. It helps to make this clear to your team, simple phrases like ‘I’d love to hear what you think about….’, ‘please give me your feedback on…’ or asking open questions ‘how do you feel about…’ really help open up vital employee voice.
#Tip 8 Actions speak louder than words
Of course there’s no point asking for feedback if you’re not going to take it onboard, employees will quickly spot this and give up giving you their opinions. Instead it’s important to call it out when some gets done as a result of employee feedback, try things like ‘thanks to everyone who fedback to me on XYZ, as a result, we’ve developed a great new approach to……’, ‘Following [employees name] feedback, we’re now going to approach XYZ in a new way….’ Or ‘I’m working with [employees name] who volunteered to help me review how we….’. You may feel like this kind of narrative sometimes falls on deaf ears but it’s all part of demonstrating to those who may appear less engaged that their voice / opinion is important and will gently encourage them to come forward.
If you’re new to the role of management, congratulations, hopefully these tips will help you open up your team and ultimately make it easier for you to succeed. We’d love to hear how you’re managing employee voice in an increasingly dynamic and diverse environment. What great tips have you got? What are you observing as the workplace evolves? Comment below.
Author bio: Sally Pritchett is an experienced communications expert at the leading creative communications agency called Something Big.