It is so important to not just pay this lip-service. This is about genuinely leaning in to hear what employees have to say. I wonder how many times a consultant has waltzed in (or even the auditors) and made suggestions for change and when management implements them, the employees think: “Yes, we could have told you that needed changing months ago”.
Recognise the innovation that your employees have – it is not surprising when day after day they are there working at the coalface of your business.
Neil Wright of TensCare Ltd, a Good Business Charter member, gave an excellent example of just how transformational listening to employee voice can be when I sat alongside him on a panel for EO Boost, run by the Employee Ownership Association.
Employee-owned since 2018, he presided over a meeting where one employee made the suggestion of a new product for facial muscles. Neil candidly admitted that he was very doubtful, especially as it marked a move away from their focus on medical devices and into beauty care. However, plenty of other people engaged with the idea and were enthusiastic which led to the decision to try it and make a batch, which sold within 2 weeks! It is now TensCare Ltd’s biggest selling item, selling massively in South-East Asia and they plan to launch it in the UK soon. This all came from being receptive to ideas coming from the members of staff.
Businesses need to appreciate that ensuring employees have a voice isn’t just about valuing them as human beings, it actually benefits the business as a whole. At Richer Sounds they have been running a suggestion scheme for over thirty years. Employees are actively encouraged to make suggestions as to how different aspects of the business can be improved, and if their suggestion is adopted, they get a small reward plus the satisfaction of seeing their ideas implemented.
It is not enough to say employees have a voice. You need to actively encourage it and make sure issues that are raised go to senior management and are discussed. At the Good Business Charter we held back from mandating that there is an employee on the Board as there are plenty of other ways to ensure that the employee voice is heard at senior level without necessarily needing to vote an employee onto the Board.
If you are not sure your methods of employee engagement are working, you know who to ask. Your employees will be the first to identify where only lip service is paid to attempts to hear from them. Perhaps a short survey to ask them whether they genuinely feel they are listened to would give you an indication of how your workers feel – and if they don’t feel listened to, why not engage their help in designing appropriate ways to rectify that.
One thing I love about the impact of listening to employees is that doing that can benefit other components of the Good Business Charter also. Employees are often passionate about how we impact our environment and may be excellent advocates for exploring and developing ways to minimise your company’s carbon footprint. They are also great at championing the local – use of local suppliers, support for local causes, work that is secure and fairly paid and a good customer experience. It can lead to a wonderful virtuous circle. It doesn’t mean you can never take tough decisions – but you are much more likely to bring your whole team with you on the journey.