While I was speaking at the Newsgator conference in Amsterdam I learned of a very interesting story at ING Direct (Canada). For those of you not familiar with ING Direct, it has around 1,200 employees and is based in Canada and operates things such as savings accounts, retirement plans, mortgages, and mutual funds. Their CEO is Peter Aceto and he recently gave his employees the right to bitch.
ING Direct uses Sharepoint + Newsgator as their collaboration platform and their CEO recently started an internal discussion to get employees to share what they find annoying or upsetting while working at ING. Here’s a screenshot of what Peter said, taken directly from the ING blog.
It’s rare (unheard of?) for a CEO to ask his entire organization to share the negatives of working at their company. Not only to share these negatives but to do so in a way so that everyone else in the organization can see it as well! You can imagine that there must have been a bit of apprehension when the employees first saw this. I mean who wants to publicly share their frustrations to the CEO? And, if they did so, would they still have a job the next morning?
Peter actually found that employees started to become open and receptive to the idea and the comments and discussions started to flow. Peter was able to discover all sorts of annoying things that his employees shared such as not having their titles on business cards or getting rid of the much loved breakfast hash-browns.
Peter sums it up nicely and is 120% spot on when he says:
“We may not have solved major business issues by having this bitch session, but with my support, employees know that it is safe to be heard, and that dialogue is encouraged and feedback is actionable. And my senior team is reminded of the power that resides in having real conversations, honesty and open debate.
Whether it is Pandora’s box or a big can of worms you’re opening, the point is the cans exist, the conversations take place and there’s always room for improvement. I strongly encourage leaders to take the initiative, be an active listener and provide safety for your employees’ honesty.”
How many business leaders do you know that would do something like this and then actually make the changes that employees request? One of my 12 principles of collaboration is listening to the voice of the employee and Peter showed exactly how to do that. There is no point in asking employees for feedback and ideas if you don’t acknowledge and respond to their input. Even the bad feedback gives the organization an opportunity to improve on something.
We need more business leaders like Peter behind our organizations who don’t manage by fear and command control but instead see the value in employee feedback, whether it’s good or bad. Changing the corporate culture of any organization is always easier said then done but what better way to help make this change then by giving employees the opportunity to speak freely, openly, and honestly about their experiences while working at their company?
We saw something similar in the social media space when companies were scared to get involved because they thought they would just open the floodgates for their customers to say bad things about them. But the reality is that your employees (and customers) are going to have these discussions and ideas whether you want them to or not. The only difference is that they can either have them publicly so you can address their concerns while building trust or they can have them privately during their lunch breaks and you will never knowing anything about them until it’s too late.
Every business leader and organization should give their employees the right to bitch!