February has seen the country rocked by scandals at Mid Staffordshire NHS trust and the LIBOR rate fixing at Royal Bank of Scotland. These failures were systemic; tolerated by staff and management.
Which leads us to ask the question; are you listening to your employees?
As the bad news streamed out, the Outstand consulting team reflected on whether these are isolated cases or part of a wider trend within organisations.
In the Mid Staffs case, hundreds died and many others suffered lasting harm. A culture developed where staff kept their heads down and ignored the appalling standards of care they witnessed and allowed to be inflicted on their patients. Management was distracted by financial targets rather than seeing what was happening to the patients in their care.
The report identified that “at the core of the failure was a culture of defensiveness to complaints and a lack of openness”.
Transcripts released by RBS enquiry show the extent to which personal gain was placed above the needs of the organisation and the client:
Broker: “We have a mutual friend who’d love to see (Libor) go down”
Libor rate submitter: “hehehe… always suits me if anything to go lower as I rcve (receive) funds”
Broker: “gotcha… there might be a steak in it for ya, haha”
This practice was widespread throughout the organisation. So why did so many professional and well-educated people act in such unscrupulous ways without being held to account until everything had gotten out of control?
We were drawn to the results of the CIPD Winter Outlook survey.
This revealed a worrying deterioration in employees’ satisfaction with their ability to feed views upwards. Only 42% of respondents said they are satisfied with their ability to feed their ideas or views upwards. This is compounded with the significant unhappiness among staff over the extent to which they are consulted by senior leaders about important decisions.
Just 19% of public sector and 27% of private sector staff agree they are consulted about important decisions.
Developing the employee’s voice is instrumental in increasing staff engagement. It’s important to create an open culture where senior managers create time to consult staff about key decisions, and employees trust their managers enough to be able to express their views; whether asked for them or not. Should poor practice or criminal activity take place then whistleblowers can speak out and feel protected.
The days of “senior management knows best” are numbered if organisations want to achieve high performance and open communication. For engagement to grow and innovation to thrive employees need to feel able to feed views upwards.
The most effective business strategies rely on employees, who engage directly with clients, to inform senior managers with a realistic assessment of the organisation. Organisations that value the views of all staff gain from improvements in client service, product quality and ultimately profits.