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The new employee has an opinion

You are the head (vice-president, director or manager) of your business unit and you recently hired a new employee*. This new recruit is filling in a key role and he/she is expected to deliver on his/her objectives.

You have translated the corporate vision and mission into SMART objectives (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) and you think of yourself as an innovative leader and believe your team members need to be empowered. Obviously, this senior employee is not simply filling an execution role where he/she needs to do what he/she is told.

After a few weeks, the new employee comes to you with a different way of managing the team. His/her suggestion would most probably (in his/her mind at least) increase productivity and improve employee moral. Which of the following answers better reflect your reaction?

  1. Listen to the idea, politely smile and let the employee know he/she needs to wait 6 months before he/she is entitled to an opinion.
  2. Kindly listen to the proposal and let the employee know that he/she has it all wrong. Things don’t really work the way he/she perceives it.
  3. Thank the employee for volunteering the information and ask him/her to prepare a lengthy SWOT analysis (strength, weakness, opportunity, threat) in the hopes he/she abandons the idea.
  4. Ask the employee to join you for lunch in order to better understand his/her perspective.

These weren’t trick answers. I have personally seen these 4 answers being given to new employees in various contexts. The point here is not to criticize the answers or the approach used but to highlight a key issue behind the answers.

Answer #4 is obviously the only one opening up a dialogue where the employee and the manager talk about perceptions, culture and work environment. Assuming the feedback was brought forward in constructive manner, even if the employee’s observations were not accurate, it has the amazing benefits of making the employee feel good – someone wants to hear his/her perception – in addition to establishing a relationship between the employee and his/her manager.

Answers #1, #2, and #3 immediately show that the person in charge either feels they can’t learn anything useful from a new employee or don’t care to know what the new employee has to say. Once again, assuming the employee brought the feedback in a constructive fashion and even if the supervisor doesn’t have anything to learn, wouldn’t there be benefit in maintaining an open channel of communication between the manager and his/her team? Unfortunately, it seems many people do not think so.

* This exercise also works for external consultants.

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