As a manager or leader it is your job to coordinate employees and processes to gain maximum performance. You construct a plan to change things that you think need improved. You even spend some time putting together a communication strategy to appease staff of the downsides. You roll out the presentation and everyone sits quietly. You think to yourself you have done an amazing job. Just to clarify, you ask a few trusted employees for their opinion. Everything comes back glowing and further boosts your confidence. Things change and performance improves. You have done your job well, right?
Further down the line you find staff turnover has increased and satisfaction survey responses are lower. It couldn’t be the changes you made as everyone was happy with those. The staff must be having personal issues or there is something else causing the issue. You bring in an under performer for an improvement plan and they let you know that the changes you made have caused their morale to fall and the job intensity to increase. So why didn’t anyone say?
Were they afraid to? Is it easier to just keep quiet?
Many friends and previous managers I have worked with don’t like to be questioned about their decisions or workings. In one role I held previously, the employee in question was told they would be ostracised from the team for being a troublemaker and going against management. This member of staff was quoted as being a negative influence on the rest of the team and that it should stop.
Whether it is positive or negative this person has influence. More than perhaps you initially would like. But what if that influence was positive? What if that person agreed with your ideas and was your evangelist among the team? What bigger impact would that person allow for? How much more successful would your change be?
Resistance to change is not a bad thing if you don’t let it become an obstacle. You think this person is being insubordinate and questioning you personally, they see it as questioning an idea. So here are my tips for embracing insubordination.
1. Take your ego out of the equation. This project may be your baby but when you take things personally, particularly criticism, you hold to your ideas stronger and creativity is stifled. Remember this is an organisational goal, not a personal one.
2. Enjoy the challenge. Yes someone is saying your ideas are flawed but celebrate the opportunity to push yourself and your ideas further. Don’t get put out. This is not an attack.
3. Welcome opinions good and bad. Actively seek them out. You may initially see a complaining employee but try to look at this as an employee who thinks it can be better and wants to do so. Employees don’t always say it right so help them to communicate right the next time.
4. Find out why it’s bad. You may have one view of a situation but that’s not the whole picture. The staff can open up a whole other view.
5. Be afraid of those who don’t communicate. They aren’t engaged and don’t want to participate in changes. Even those who complain want to be involved.
6. Delegate the challenge. If you have staff who don’t think an initiative is good enough then let them make it better. If they are directly affected then they have better insight into what is wrong. You don’t have to sweat over it all yourself. Keep on top of their development and initiative though, as you are still accountable.
Taking a more open view to challenging staff can spark creativity, innovation and diversity. And remember be afraid of the silence. No one likes a quiet business.