How important is employee visibility?
When we ask this question through the veil of the corporate world, where profits, shareholders and efficiency can often feel like the only things that matter, you need to intellectually figure out why employees need visibility. Step out of the confines of modern business constructs and the question seems to have an obvious answer – employees need visibility because they matter and without them, nothing would happen.
Take a car. It looks beautiful on the outside. Fantastic colour, shape and alloys but there’s nothing in the engine. Would anyone ask whether the engine needed attention? Whether it mattered? Whether it needed to be taken care of. I doubt it.
The commercial world has put a premium on what you can do to make money, to drive efficiency, and to deliver greater shareholder value. What happens to employees when those are the drivers for success? They get forgotten. They get taken for granted. They are expected to deliver regardless.
Yes, when you break down the macho facade that is business, when you give some proper thought to what people need to be at their best, you know that people need to matter. They need to have a voice, they need to know they are doing a great job, they need to have some influence over their work and their environment, and they need to understand the difference they are making. We all have an innate need to belong and feel a part of the group. That means being visible.
What can businesses do to help their employees feel visible?
Firstly leaders need to consider their behaviour. Some leaders will make people feel heard and include them in the conversations. But what about the leaders who don’t, the ones who see employees more as a means to an end – the resource that allows them to deliver what is necessary. It’s those leaders who need to have a long, hard look at why they think that is acceptable. When did they lose a sense of people being people. When did they forget that they mattered. Why do they believe that they as a leader perhaps matter more. Leaders who make others feel visible recognise that everyone matters and has a voice. They believe that the people around them have the right answers too. But it can require you to take a step back and look at who you are as a leader – it requires consciousness.
Leaders who make others feel visible involve them, ask for their opinion, and listen to what they have to say. They then act on what they’ve said.
What are the main challenges behind implementing these processes?
Being human. Leaders historically have been expected to have the answers, make the decisions, and sit at the top of the tree. What happens in an organisation that makes their employees more visible? It means the leaders having to get out of the way so that other people can shine. It doesn’t mean removing yourself from the situation, it means setting clear direction for what needs to be delivered and then asking others how the team can get there, providing support along the way as needed. It requires compassion and humility on the part of the leader, both attributes which historically haven’t been seen as the most important aspects of a commercial leaders repertoire. In a world that is moving faster than ever, where people are overloaded, and where we are struggling to keep our heads above the parapet, without compassion and humility, leaders will fail their people.
Who should be held responsible for managing this change?
It starts with leaders. How visible employees feel is directly related to how leaders behave. Whether they care about the people who work for them. Whether they create open and transparent organisations where speaking up is an accepted part of the way that everyone works. It requires confident leaders, as it’s their confidence that will enable them to know they are not beyond reproach. It’s not the sort of confidence that ‘tells’ other what to do, it’s the sort of confidence that can take and reflect on constructive criticism. So, it requires leaders to recognise whether they are suffering from imposter syndrome, whether they are trying to stay in control, whether they can accept that they won’t always get things right – it requires them to know themselves. That requires time out for reflection, it requires them to ask for feedback, and it requires them to work both on their business and themselves.
Do many businesses today see this as a priority?
Some do. Companies like Google recognise that leaders who are self-aware and challenged perform better. We’ve spent most of our time since the dawn of the industrial revolution looking at how to improve the processes, the systems, and on collecting the evidence and the data to prove that things work. We’re now moving into an era where leadership consciousness, where learning about who we are and our impact on others, and learning about what brings out the best in people, are going to be the differentiators – this deep personal understanding of how to be the best ‘human’ will be what catalyses business.
How long does the process of making employees feel visible take?
I’m afraid to say this is a lifetime of work. Leaders learning about who they are and how they are starts today, but last forever. In terms of how quickly you can see results, if a leader takes this seriously, change can be immediate. But it requires a belief that ‘me as a leader makes a difference to the way my people feel and perform everyday’. Then it requires the confidence to face up to the reality of who we are and how we need to be in the future. It requires us to become more conscious.