"The more we feel devalued — and we all do at various times, to varying degrees — the more energy we spend defending and restoring our value, and the less energy we have available to create value."
"Unfortunately, this issue rarely gets addressed in the workplace."
When employees feel undervalued, not only do they underperform, they're also more likely to leave. The problem's prevalence and substantial cost (usually grossly underestimated) make it an issue that's well worth addressing.
"I've spoken to thousands of people about how easily our value can be threatened. I underestimated how true that was even in our own company, and how I myself had contributed, without fully recognizing my impact."
So why is this problem so intractable? One answer is that there's a too common blind spot at its core. Most managers think that they listen. Most employees think they don't. Since being listened to profoundly influences their perception of value, this perception gap must be addressed.
Doing so begins with a realization. An employee's perception that they're being heard is about more than the act of listening. It's about feeling that there's a genuine interest in their ideas and that they can honestly express concerns. It's about a sense of safety.
While creating an organizational culture that feels safe and where employees feel valued isn't easy, it is achievable through consistent effort and the reinforcement of supporting concepts. Here are a few basics with which to start:
- Continually reinforce the precept that ideas are welcome from anyone regardless of rank.
- Banish blame - There is a saying at Toyota that "no problem is a problem." (From "Overcoming the Disruption of Process Change")
- Encourage everyone to think in terms of how an idea can work, instead of how it can't.
- The best ideas don't always come wrapped in a palatable manner. Communication is hard and often imprecise. Look for the gem inside. From Peter Bregman's post, "Don't Let the Package Distract You from the Message": "assume clumsiness" and "Assume they're not a jerk. Overlook their inelegance."
- If an idea doesn't make sense to you, don't judge it. Ask sincere questions to learn more. Clarify the idea by mirroring it back.
- Place a premium on civility. Banish anger and ridicule.
- Credit where credit is due. No exceptions. Publicly acknowledge contributions.
For a more comprehensive set of ideas on how to create an environment that feels safe I suggest the book: Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High.
Of course, there are numerous other contributors to an employee's sense of value. What does your company do to show their employees that they value them?