Use these strategies to create opportunities for engagement and deal with people’s reluctance to participate. By Priya Prakasan
Leadership plays an influential role when it comes to employee participation. And as a leader it is your responsibility to create a safe, encouraging environment where employees feel free to speak up. Here are five suggestions to get you started down that path.
1. Find out what’s stopping them
Speak to HR and come up with a plan to find out what’s stopping employees from participating. Consider investing in focus groups led by a skilled moderator with a predetermined goal. The idea is to understand the unique factors creating barriers, some of which just might be unique to your organisation. Once you know what these are you can work towards addressing them so as to improve employee involvement.
2. Provide enough time for Q&As
How often do you allow for a proper Q&A session after presentations, talks, town halls, etc? Chances are after the talk is done everyone knows there’s a perfunctory check for questions, as there isn’t enough time left from a proper Q&A session. It’s discouraging, so employees start looking at the clock and mentally preparing for their exit. In this case you’ve already lost their attention and chances of participation are nil. So instead, treat the Q&A session with as much importance as you would the talk. Brief the speaker(s)/moderator and panel accordingly so that there’s plenty of time left for audience participation. Strictly adhere to the timetable so as to provide an opportunity to facilitate dialogue and increase audience involvement. Create a safe, encouraging environment so that employees feel free to speak up.
3. Create a point of focus for discussions
When trying to spark off a discussion it’s important to eliminate situations that discourage employees from participation. Some reasons have to do with the content. Either it’s too confusing/boring/complex/too theoretical. Or you could be trying to cram in too many topics in one go. Instead determine the objective of the process and then limit the number of key topics. This creates focus for the speaker and the audience, and drives people to explore the limited subjects in depth.
4. Understand the spotlight effect
Another reason employees often shy away from participating is because of the spotlight effect, wherein people tend to believe they are being noticed more than they actually are. This results in employees avoiding situations that involve addressing a large group of people and participating in the process. To avoid this after a talk, presentation, town hall, etc you could break up the audience into smaller groups and ask them to come up with questions/ideas/concerns/thoughts. Then an assign a spokesperson from the groups to share the ideas generated by the group. People will be more willing to share their thoughts in this scenario, as they aren’t opening themselves up for scrutiny. The ideas came from the group as a whole so they feel it’s safer to voice their thoughts.
5. Stop being a know-it-all
Another barrier that the employees might be having trouble with is having a leader who sees himself/herself as an expert on any topic. This has to do with the leader’s ego and adopting a ‘I know everything’ behaviour to show superiority. This isn’t a very desirable trait in a leader. Employees find it discouraging and are afraid to speak up. So try to reign in that ego, show that you’re open to learning; initiate a two-way dialogue with the employees to improve their participation. Instead of showing off an expert, ask them questions to facilitate a better understanding of the topic.
Photograph: Katemangostar – Freepik.com