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Get Your Employees To Speak Up And Transform Your Business, Even When It Gets U.G.L.Y.

Your success depends on quickly incorporating the best ideas from across your business. But what if you never hear what’s working? What if the best practices languish, unshared and unspoken?

Unfortunately, this “what if” isn’t a thought exercise – FOSU (fear of speaking up) is the reality for many businesses. FOSU is an epidemic that stifles innovation and kills creative problem-solving.

In today’s business climate, people are often discouraged from saying the wrong thing and not rewarded for saying the right thing – so they say nothing. The consequences can be dire: customers leave, problems multiply like the heads of a hydra and employees lose heart.

The tragic truth is, most of the time, managers think they’re creating an open environment that encourages employees to speak up, and are surprised when they learn that employees are holding back.

6 Ways to Overcome FOSU and Help Your Employees Speak Up

When you’re genuinely interested in hearing what your team has to say, these six suggestions will help you create a culture of sharing that can transform your results.

  1. Ask For Tough Feedback

It sounds simple, but when you want to know what’s not working, just ask. For example:

“What drives you crazy about this new procedure?”

“What about this system concerns you?”

“How is this project going to make things worse for our customers?”

Notice the specificity in these questions. In contrast, asking a general question like: “How’s the project going?” is more likely to be met with a response your team thinks you want to hear, e.g. “It’s going great!” When you want the tough feedback, specifically ask for it.

  1. Facilitate an Own the U.G.L.Y. conversation

    Most teams never take time to talk about where you’re most vulnerable, how you can improve, and your hidden opportunities. When you do this regularly, you can jump start innovation, sharing of best practices, and uncover game-changing opportunities. Start by asking 4 strategic questions:

U– What are we Underestimating?

G-What’s got to Go?

L-Where are we Losing?

Y-Where are we missing the Yes?

You will be amazed at how quickly these four strategic questions will get to the heart of the thorniest issues. You can learn more about this technique here.

  1. Encourage Truth Telling
Get Your Employees To Speak Up And Transform Your Business, Even When It Gets U.G.L.Y. - Lioness Magazine
Karin Hurt and David Dye

As with any behavior, you get more of what you encourage and celebrate, but less of what you criticize or ignore. When an employee brings you an issue in a productive way, thank them publically and explain why it’s so important that they speak up.

Be careful to watch your reactions. No one likes to hear bad news, but your verbal and non-verbal reactions will make all the difference in whether or not people will bring you the truth. When you say “thank you” with a look of disgust, it doesn’t fool anyone.

  1. Build Their Ability to Solve Problems

The management cliché of “Don’t bring me a problem without a solution” is the fastest way to get your team to stop bringing you problems. Work to build problem-solving competencies on your team. Try this simple 9 Whats Coaching Model technique as a start.

When your team brings you a problem encourage them to also identify potential solutions. Ask them the following questions:

  • What is your goal?
  • What have you tried?
  • What happened?
  • What did you learn?
  • What else do you need?
  • What else might you try?
  • What do you think might happen if you tried option A? How about Option B?
  • What will do now?
  1. Teach them How to Share

Shante was a dedicated project manager who cared passionately about the success of her team and her organization. She approached us for coaching because she had feedback her senior leaders needed to hear, but she didn’t know how to share it productively. She was staying silent because she didn’t want to jeopardize her career by accidently insulting someone. With a few minutes of coaching she was able to share her thoughts productively and the senior vice president acknowledged her for bringing the issue to his attention.

Give your team tools to share feedback and ideas in a productive way so that they feel skilled and competent to address business challenges. Then, make sure they have the information they need to make smart suggestions.  

  1. Acknowledge the Feedback

“I don’t know why I speak up, no one does anything with what I say” is possibly one of the most common phrases in companies today. Human beings want to be heard. Validate their feedback with a “Thank you” and “I hear you.” Summarize what you hard, what you will do next, and why – even if it’s not what they wanted, they know they were heard.

If you want your employees to speak up, ask them, show them that you’re listening, give them the tools to share productively, and respond to what you hear. Your next game-changing idea is just one-conversation away.


Karin Hurt and David Dye help leaders achieve breakthrough results without losing their soul. They are keynote leadership speakers, trainers, and the award-winning authors of Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul. Karin is a top leadership consultant and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. David Dye is a former executive, elected official, and president of Let’s Grow Leaders, their leadership training and consulting firm.

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