This article was originally posted on Forbes.
By Erin Hoffman
As a business consultant, I have the privilege of being an “inside outsider.” Employees are comfortable talking to me about what concerns them, knowing that I have the ears of the managers to anonymously discuss these issues. I compiled a list of five things your team wants to know so managers and leaders can get a better understanding of what their team is curious but too afraid to ask about.
The fear element is based on an environment that lacks trust. Employees may not know how to approach their managers or give upward feedback. Others may fear they will be labeled as negative people, or they don’t have access to their manager to ask these types of questions. Even worse is when an employee believes that their manager already knows about the issues but is doing nothing to resolve them. Some managers have even acted defensively when their employees provide feedback, which leads to employees feeling as if they should just stay quiet.
I advise my clients to always keep an open door and an open mind. Create a community of trust that allows two-way feedback — this will only serve to improve communication and trust and inspire high-quality work that will benefit the company in the long run through low employee turnover and increased revenue.
Here’s my list of five questions your team has but is too afraid to ask:
1. Why is this person still working here? As many of us know from experience, teams notice when a colleague is not pulling their weight or, even worse, not being held accountable for mistakes. It’s absolutely frustrating and even demotivating for top performers. Top performers hold themselves to high standards, so it’s easy to understand why they’re not happy when others on the team aren’t putting in their best effort. Sometimes, the team even wonders whether their manager notices the performance issues. Usually, the manager does know, but they fail to address the issue. Or they are aware and give the person in question extra time due to circumstances the team is unaware of. If a lack of intervention goes on for too long, the leader could lose credibility, and top performers will become disenfranchised — and may even move on from the company.
2. Why haven’t I been promoted yet? It’s possible for managers to be unaware of their employees’ aspirations due to a lack of two-way feedback. It’s not enough to have this type of conversation once a year at review time. Ideally, managers should have one-on-one meetings with their employees to talk about their growth goals and have honest conversations about what it will take to get promoted.
3. Why does this matter? If an employee doesn’t understand how their role and tasks contribute to the company’s overall goals, they will have no idea what they’re working for. It is the leader’s job to clearly communicate this connection, as well as reiterate what the company goals are. Individual managers should be able to communicate how their team — and each individual within it — fits into the big picture.
4. Why can’t we afford it? Employees are often told, “It’s not in the budget.” But what does that really mean? It can be interpreted as “What you need is not a priority” or “Our company is not doing well financially.” A manager’s job is to get their people the skills and resources they need to do their job. If a request is truly not in the budget, a manager owes it to the employee to give a little more explanation about why and help them find an alternate solution.
5. Who is holding my manager accountable? There’s nothing more demoralizing than when your boss is perceived (rightly or wrongly) as dropping the ball. Employees are put in an awkward position: Do they confront their manager? Go over their head? Neither situation is ideal. The best managers make themselves accountable to the team. One way to do that is to create a communication structure to receive feedback. This could be as simple as asking, “What can I do to better support you?”
The Bottom Line
The vast majority of employees want to ask these questions so they can be better at their jobs. It’s never a good feeling to seriously question a company, and it’s even worse to be too afraid to ask the questions. Managers can create a culture of open communication to provide a safe two-way street so employees feel comfortable to speak up.