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What both of these managers think they heard is incomplete and incorrect. Here's why.
What did the employees say?In both examples above, the employee responses indicated that they were listening to the manager's ideas and trying to understand them. In Anita's case, the small number of questions might have been due to the fact that some people are reluctant to speak in front of a group. However, they also told her of a concern that things might be moving too fast. By questioning how it could all be put in place over the weekend, they were suggesting Anita slow down. While resistance to change is normal, and something a manger has to learn to handle, the fact that it was the most frequent employee comment should cause Anita to reconsider her implementation schedule.
Zac got a little more response than Anita did. That may have been due to the anonymous method he chose to collect the employee input. While he may have been able to figure out some of the respondents, he can't really go back to the people who made the good suggestions and get their feedback. That would reveal that the survey really wasn't anonymous and reduce the trust the employees have in him.
What didn't the employees say?Anita's employees did NOT tell her that they agreed with her plan or that they would support it. Nor did her boss tell her that he agreed with her plan and would support her. Anita interpreted the lack of negative comments as support, but it is not. It is at best neutral, and probably negative. People who agree with the boss are more likely to speak up than those who disagree. People who aren't sure if they agree usually aren't active participants in a group setting because they don't want to look indecisive in front of everyone else.
As the new person, Anita could reasonably expect to face resentment from people who thought they should have been promoted into her position. That those people did not speak up in the meeting and try to embarrass or sabotage her should be a warning that there might some negative input that was not revealed.
Zac's employees did not tell him that they liked his anonymous survey. The fact that his response rate was more than double the customer satisfaction survey response rate is misleading. Employee surveys, especially anonymous ones, generally have much higher response rates than the 48% Zac's survey received.
In addition, the answers he did get may be biased and unrepresentative if his questions were not properly designed. If Zac asked "What do you like about the new bonus plan?", for example, he would get generally more favorable answers than if he asked, "Do you like the new bonus plan? Why or why not?"
What does all this mean?Don't just listen to what is said. Don't just hear what you want to hear. Don't try to make all the responses you get support your premise. It is much more difficult, but much more valuable to listen also to what is not said.
Try to set up your meetings, your surveys, and your company culture so that you get good dialog. Healthy discussion and even disagreement is better than surrounding yourself with "yes men". You already know why your ideas are good. What you want to listen for are the reasons why they might not be perfect. Don't silence the dissenting voices. Don't assume silence is agreement. Usually it is not. Dig deep enough to learn what your employees are not saying and you will be a better and more effective manager.
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