Your Employees Need to Know You Really Can Handle the Truth

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Apr 3, 2014

Do you remember that classic Jack Nicholson scene in A Few Good Men when he bellows at Tom Cruise’s character, You can’t handle the truth!”

Your new hires need to believe that YOU can handle the truth, but only if…

… you want to learn specifically how to raise employee engagement in your organization so it is above the dismal levels most employers experience.

If you want to identify the real sources of employee turnover and the “New Hire Honeymoon Is Over Blues,” your employees need to get the following messages loud and clear:

  1. You really DO want the truth.
  2. They will not suffer by telling the truth.
  3. Their feedback is more than just welcomed — it’s mission critical.
  4. You will respond to their feedback, whether “respond” means making changes based on it, or considering it and if it’s not implemented, responding by letting them know why.

While its important for ALL employees to believe the above, it is especially true for your new hires because they are especially reluctant to tell you the truth.

Remember what it was like to be a newbie?

Think back to when you’ve been a new employee and experienced firsthand all the many ways your new employer and new boss dampened your enthusiasm, or could have been more helpful in getting you up to speed and performing well.

Think of all the “little things” that you didn’t feel comfortable speaking up about because you didn’t want to be seen as “difficult” or “high maintenance” or “a whiner.”

Each time you chose not to speak up, your manager and your employer missed out on valuable information they could have used to do a better job of helping you become productive and staying engaged. That information could also have helped your employer boost engagement, reduce turnover, and get the best out of ALL of your co-workers.

Start with what YOU would have appreciated

Think about what they could have done to let you know “Your feedback really IS welcome.”

Use that as the starting point for identifying what YOU can do with your employees to get that message across,

You can also borrow from the world of customer service. You can do what smart companies do to make it easier and more comfortable for customers to give them honest feedback.

Let me give you an example.

Years ago, while traveling on business through upstate New York, I stopped at a restaurant for dinner. As I scanned the menu, I noticed a paragraph that went something like this:

We want you to be totally happy with your meal, whether you’re a local who might come back again and again, or a tourist traveling through. So, if there is anything that you’re not happy about, please let your server know and we’ll do whatever it takes to make you happy.

“We value your feedback … Not!”

Now, think of how different this is from the typical restaurant experience. If the server even bothers to ask you if everything is alright, they’re usually asking the question in a robotic manner – a la “Have a nice day.”

If you do have the nerve to say something like “Well, actually, it wasn’t very good,” or some specific criticism, they don’t usually thank you for sharing. Instead, you get a frown, a befuddled “Oh, I’m sorry…,” or a facial expression and voice tone that says “Why are you ruining my day by being so negative?”

A couple of these experiences and you learn that the only correct response is “Fine” or “Great,” even when your meal was anything BUT fine or great.

We learn that giving truthful feedback isn’t welcomed, so we go through the same Kabuki dance regardless of how good the meal actually was.

The discomfort of the awkwardness just isn’t worth the bother, we think, until we cross that threshold and the food is so horrible or the service so bad, we don’t care what the server or anyone else thinks. We’re going to speak our mind.

If this is the only time the restaurant gets feedback, they lose critical information that could help them upgrade the customer experience they deliver. The restaurant owner or manager will never know about all the “little things” below the “I’ve had it!” threshold that are annoying and turning off their customers.

Thus, they lose customers and never know why.

The price they pay

But restaurants like this one who explicitly state “We want your feedback, it’s important to us” are going to get feedback on those “little things.”

Because of their explicit “We want your feedback” message, you don’t feel like a bother or a potential adversary if you speak up. Instead, you feel like you’re part of their team offering them value intelligence to help them raise their game.

Well, the same is true for your employees, especially your new employees.

How to let employees know you CAN handle the truth

  1. Share this article with them as an icebreaker and context-setter.
  2. Then ask questions like, “What do we do that makes it hard for you to do your job?”, “What do I do that makes it hard for you to do your job?”, “What are some of the ways we could improve the new hire experience we create?” Notice that what you are doing is inviting the truth. As Jacob Schneid of The Momentum Group notes: “The truth comes by invitation only.”
  3. Realize that you will need to indicate that you really CAN handle the truth. One way of doing that is to do what I call “Mention the Unmentionable.” This is where you bring up possible issues that they probably would be reluctant to. So for instance “Did it make sense for us to do that game this morning or should we have waited until you had more knowledge of our product line?”

For more on “Mentioning the Unmentionable” and other language patterns to foster candid conversations, see Can We Talk for a Change?

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