In an article at Times Online, Carly Chynoweth gives tips on how to harness internal critics in an organization.
According to Chynoweth, ignoring such internal critics can damage the organization. On the other hand, winning them over can turn them into outspoken advocates. She, therefore, offers the following suggestions:
1. Choose your targets.
Chynoweth quotes Victoria Mellor, director of the Strategic Communications Research Forum: “Vocal critics tend to be fairly influential. In a work context there are people who influence others in good and bad ways. They are the people you need to harness.”
The author adds that research results have shown that people are more likely to trust and listen to their peers than their managers.
2. Ask for advice.
Chynoweth quotes David Ferrabee, a management consultant specializing in change and internal communication for Hill and Knowlton: “You might find that someone already has the solution you need.”
The author points out that the easiest way to harness a critic is to ask him or her how he or she would deal with the situation. She clarifies, though, that you should not ask for an answer to everything but instead focus on a specific area within the critic’s realm of experience and knowledge.
3. Follow through.
Chynoweth warns against not delivering on your promises or promising too much when asking for feedback. Be clear on exactly how much difference suggestions will make.
4. Don’t write off critics.
Chynoweth quotes Helen Coleman, external affairs director at the British Association of Communicators in Business: “See these cynics for what they are - committed people frustrated by the continual change that they see hindering progress.
The author says it is much better that these people care enough to be unhappy, rather than for them to be totally apathetic.
5. Build relationships.
Chynoweth cites Mellor’s recommendation of meeting people and talking face to face, rather than just sending memos.
6. Bring people inside the tent.
Chynoweth quotes Ferrabee: “Get people involved in what you are trying to do . . . keep people up to date with what you’re doing as it happens, rather than presenting it as a fait accompli.”
Chynoweth cites Coleman’s advice to establish a “bullet-proof” whistle-blowing policy so that employees know that their grievances will be investigated and dealt with promptly. Knowing that they will be listened to will make them less likely to raise complaints externally, she says.
8. Allow anonymity.
Chynoweth refers to Coleman’s suggestion of setting up online discussion boards on the organization’s intranet where “staff can query or challenge the management anonymously without feeling that their position will be compromised.” Chynoweth cautions that management should then make sure to listen and respond to the issues raised.
9. Let people vent.
Chynoweth proposes town hall-style meetings where people are given a chance to have their say on difficult issues. She adds Ferrabee’s admonition that staying calm will help to defuse the situation.
Wise words of counsel, indeed.