Sounds of Silence

December 3, 2009

This is a really great article. I think it points out two big problems experienced by many organizations. Specifically, that (1) most employees do not feel comfortable giving feedback, for fear of some reprisal, and (2) many managers either do not want or do not give the impression that they want to receive feedback from their employees. I always find the later of these problems to be ironic because, as a manager, if you never get feedback from your employees—the people you interact with everyday—then you are never going to improve. How can you ever know what you are doing wrong if you do not have someone willing to tell you where you are going astray? I think the first step here is for managers to accept the fact that they need to know what their employees think and to then take the step of actively asking for feedback. Mary Jo Asmus had a great blog post the other day on this very topic, which provides some good advice on how (and who) to ask for feedback. This post is definitely worth a read, as I think it provides advice that a lot of managers could stand to implement as part of their regular work routines.

As I noted in commenting on Mary Jo’s blog post, if you let your employees know that you want feedback and directly engage them in the feedback process, you open up the channels of communication between you and your employees. This lets the employee know (or at least it should, if done correctly) that they can speak freely and offer a frank assessment of your performance or input on a particular issue without worrying that what they say is going to negatively impact their employment situation. As managers, I think we have a responsibility to let our employees know that we want and value their input and to make sure that they feel comfortable providing it. Otherwise, we are only seeing the events that take place in our organizations through our own eyes and we miss out on otherwise valuable input that can be both helpful and important to the organization.

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This article advocates a method of bringing about organizational and/or societal change through a process that emphasizes that the leader or individual must start the change process by changing his or her own behavior and, in doing so, that person will bring about the desired change to the organization, society, or whatever unit or group the person wishes to impact. It is an interesting article and I think the core idea, that you should start with changing your own behavior and thereby bring change to the organization is a good one that most leaders should follow. Most efforts to bring about change to an organizational structure should begin with the change agent looking in the mirror and asking him or herself “how can I change my behavior and how can those changes better the organization?” To me, if you are not willing to look to yourself and consider how you can improve to start the process of change then the rest of your efforts are already going to be wasted. Why should an organization change if the manager or leader is not willing to consider how he or she can change and how that change might benefit the organization?

That being said, I think there are some issues with taking a management approach based solely on the advanced change theory discussed in this article. The article briefly acknowledges the fact that there may be resistance from above to efforts to make change using this model, which I think deserves more attention. How is an upper-level manager going to react when a middle manager starts changing his or her behavior to try and bring about change using this model? My guess is that, in most cases, the efforts will probably not be well received and the would be change agent may find him or herself branded a trouble maker and wind up on the receiving end of a lecture from an angry superior or, worst case scenario, unemployed. The reality is, you need to assess your situation and figure out whether the situation in your workplace is right for trying to apply the advanced change theory model. If you are going to get major push back from the higher-ups and/or minimal support from your co-workers, maybe you do not want to go down this route. And, maybe, if that is the case, the organization is not somewhere you want to work, but as a manager, you need to figure these things out before you start applying something like this. It is always best to go in with eyes wide open and to try and be cognizant of the potential risks you are taking.

One thing I would have liked to have seen was some more in-depth discussion and analysis of the case studies provided. The development and initial illustration of the model using Jesus, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King, jr. as examples of great leaders who used this approach was really interesting, but when it came to the case study discussions of everyday folks applying this theory, I thought the article was really short on details and analysis. It provides a couple of quick snippets and exemplars of people applying the theory and how that application resulted in significant positive changes, but I really wanted to know more about what happened in these situations. Focusing on the business examples, as a manager, I would like to know more about the companies/units/divisions that the change agents worked in, how the change efforts were received by others as the change agent began to take action, and what thought processes and steps the change agents when through as they implemented the advanced change theory approach. I think that would make this article much more useful for people who may want to try this out in their own organizations.