You’re a human-centered leader working to create a courageous, speak-up culture filled with psychological safety. A culture where employees feel invited and encouraged to speak up and share their ideas and express their concerns.
Even if you’re a rock star human-centered leader, doing all the right things to encourage micro-innovation and problem solving, it’s also likely that you have a few team members who still have best practices and ideas they’re holding back.
How to Include Your Reluctant Employees in Your Speak-Up Culture
Start by getting underneath their reluctance to speak up. People choose to hold back their ideas for a variety of reasons.
It could be they’re an introverted, silent ponderous type who could use some extra time to formulate their ideas before sharing.
Or, it could be they’ve worked for a toxic leader before and the scar tissue is just too thick. It feels safer to stay silent for these silent wounded types.
Of course, sometimes in a speak-up culture, you can have too many ideas coming from an idea grenadier or a schmoozer who just wants people to like him and his ideas, with no intention of following through.
In this article, we share ideas for helping all your people think more critically so they contribute more fully as you build a speak-up culture.
Help your silent ponderous employees bring you better ideas
Your silent ponderous types are a great place to start. These are folks with great ideas, who might appear to be disengaged, or even frustrated by the wacky ideas of others—but who still hold back.
To draw out the great value silent ponderous people can contribute to your speak-up culture, start by giving them time to think.
For some meetings, this means giving them the main topic a day or two in advance and asking them to think about it. In some settings having everyone write their ideas first will give them time to process.
Another strategy is to clarify that you’re not asking for a 100% accurate answer.
When you ask them for their best thinking at the moment or a range of ideas, it gives them permission to explore, rather than commit to something they haven’t thought through yet.
Your silent wounded need encouragement to participate in a courageous culture
Working with silent wounded in your culture can be a bit heartbreaking. You know they have good ideas, but psychological safety is low and fear is high.
They don’t trust you—and with good reason.
It’s not that you’ve done anything wrong. It’s the three managers who came before you who abused their trust, told them they weren’t hired to think, stole their idea, and then took credit for it. Now you have the same title and, fairly or not, all the negative baggage that comes with it.
Your job is to rebuild their trust. This will take time, but once you’ve built that trust, these team members are often very loyal. Start small.
Ask a courageous question and receive the answers graciously and with gratitude. Build up to deeper questions and focus on responding well.
Celebrate people, generously give credit, then ask for more problem solving and ideas to better serve your customers.
Of course, when building a speak-up culture, it’s possible to have so many ideas flying around that very little gets done.
Build a courageous culture by helping your idea grenadiers refine their ideas
Some people are idea-machines–their brain works overtime to see the possibilities in every situation. Nearly every team is better off with someone who can creatively look at what’s happening and see opportunities to improve or transform.
The challenge comes when the idea-person tosses all their ideas in your lap, wants you to do them, but won’t do the work. These are the idea-grenadiers—tossing their ideas like grenades and then running the other direction.
When you’re working with someone like this as you build a speak-up culture, it helps to have a direct conversation that calls them back to what matters most and asks them to engage. For example:
“I’ve noticed that in the past month you come to me with four different ideas about how we should improve security, revamp the training program, change our workforce management, and reorganize product management. There is merit in your ideas—and we can’t pursue all of them right now. Which of them do you think would help achieve our #1 strategic priority? Is that a project you’d be willing to help with?”
Encourage your schmoozers to build the confidence needed for execution
Most organizations have a schmoozer—everyone likes them and they talk a great game, but when it comes time to get things done, somehow, they never implement that plan that sounded so amazing when they presented it.
The challenge is that they undermine trust in your speak-up culture. Ideas they share lack credibility and they’re less likely to be entrusted with good ideas because they won’t implement them.
The best strategy with schmoozers is to ignore the charm and focus on the results. Healthy accountability conversations that help them raise their game will help restore their credibility. When you talk with them, be ready for an elegantly worded explanation for why they didn’t get it done. If it happens again, you need to escalate the conversation.
For example: “This is the third time we’ve had this conversation. Your credibility is at stake. What you said sounded wonderful, but if you can’t implement it, your team can’t rely on you and neither can I. What can we do to get this on track and completed?”
Help your change resistors connect to a more meaningful “why”
Your change resistors aren’t necessarily lazy, stuck, negative, or even “resistant.” Rather, they’re normal. Resisting change actually makes a lot of sense.
After all, if what you did yesterday worked—it got you through the day alive, fed, and healthy—why spend energy to do something differently? That’s a waste of time—unless there’s a good reason. To address this, start with the problem, not the solution.
When you start with the solution, you deprive your team of the understanding and connection that drove you to action.
Share the problem, then pause. Let it sink in. Then ask for their thoughts. This helps anchor the problem in their thinking. They explore the consequences and how it interacts with other issues.
Change always starts with desire or dissatisfaction. By introducing the problem and letting it sink in, you’re creating the same emotional connection that moved you. As the team discusses the issue, they are likely to start asking about solutions.
When someone asks you, “What do you think we should do?” resist the urge to answer immediately. Instead, continue to ask for their ideas. They may come up with ideas you haven’t considered—or they may arrive at the same solution you’ve thought through. Either way, you’ve cultivated curiosity, created ownership, and built momentum.
It may feel like this process takes extra time—and it does. But it’s fifteen or thirty minutes of time that prevents days, weeks, and even months of procrastination and foot-dragging. The team owns the problem and the solution. They’ve connected to the why and are ready for action. This small investment of time overcomes some common reasons people resist change.
With all of these challenging types, your approach and the conversations give them a chance to participate in a courageous, speak-up culture.
Related: How to Lead Highly Productive Teams