Recognizing Organizational Silence and speaking up with impunity

I’d like to share what I consider one of the highlights from a recent meeting with my fellow Siemens CEOs from around the world. It’s called “Organizational Silence” and it’s something that companies everywhere needs to overcome.

More and more employees are speaking up, and they should be applauded for voicing their opinion; it’s my earnest hope that everyone will become comfortable doing so.

It’s critical that everyone feels they can speak up to voice ideas, concerns and views, because organizational silence is one of the biggest barriers to organizational development and change. Regrettably, it’s all too common within organizations.

Research among Fortune 500 companies shows the negative impact of organizational silence. It can generate anger, cause lack of confidence, lower morale, increase stress and even foster staff turnover. It can stifle creativity and innovation, and lower productivity and profitability; it can even undermine a company’s reputation.

There are case studies where organizational silence made a huge impact on the bottom line. Look at Detroit’s Big Three automakers. One in particular paid a steep price for organizational silence when the company pushed aside safety concerns and actively discouraged speaking up. A culture of complacency was blamed for a decade-long delay in recalling millions of faulty vehicles. Market share was lost. Public confidence waned. The Columbia Shuttle disaster in 2003 is another example where organizational silence was a factor.

It’s important to recognize organizational silence for what it is – a barrier to creativity and growth – and to actively speak up. Companies need their employees’ skills and abilities to prosper, as well as their ideas and perspectives.

Management can help by encouraging employees to speak up, by practicing active listening and actively supporting employees. Management needs to tolerate failure and recognize that valuable lessons can be learned. In failure the seeds of future success are often sown. The best creative minds are not afraid to fail.

I encourage you as leaders to become champions in overcoming organizational silence, to help others find their way, by following these simple 7 Habits:

  1. Show visible leadership
  2. Promote team spirit
  3. Empower your team
  4. Appreciate good work promptly
  5. Be transparent
  6. Use your team meetings wisely
  7. Point out your own mistakes

Speaking up is one solution to this common problem, and it’s something easily within our grasp.