The Speak-up Imperative

Organizations appreciate that employees need to be encouraged to speak up, and if necessary their voice needs to transcend hierarchies. The reasons are clear – an open culture is good at uncovering & addressing employee fears & concerns early, and also benefits the organization with feedback & new ideas. While the premise is clearly sound, establishing and sustaining a speak-up culture across the organization is challenging.

Key Challenges

  • Trust is paramount to sustaining a speak-up culture and it will become mainstream only if there are sufficient positive experiences within the organization.
  • In the case of large organizations, if this represents a significantly new way of working, it is a mammoth change and will take time to percolate, requiring significant leadership involvement & support.
  • Many employees harbor fears on consequences of voicing feedback which challenges opinions or practices.
  • Ensuring reach across all employee segments can be difficult at times due to limitation of technologies & tools.
  • Employees may hold themselves back if the process and actions which will follow are unclear.

Propagating a Speak-up Culture

Several elements need to combine together in order that a speak-up culture pervades the entire organization.

Leadership Involvement – It is important that leaders reinforce the expectations to catalyze or sustain a speak-up culture. Leaders should demonstrate responsiveness by acknowledging, reviewing and setting in place actions for matters needing their involvement. A best practice is obtaining feedback from skip levels now and then.

Structure & Processes – A published organization structure & processes on how employee feedback is acted upon is critical for success. Solving problems or pursuing ideas may require communication, investment in people & resources, further brainstorming, and implementation actions.

Guidelines – While the intent has to be to keep things simple, guidelines on how employees can express themselves helps. There may also be some topics which are better discussed among focus groups for reasons of confidentiality or sensitivity.

Templates & Samples – A template (and if possible pre-filled samples) are also helpful in obtaining information in a form which is complete and can be actioned.

Technology Platforms – Enterprise social platforms and survey platforms are emerging as the predominant sources for employee inputs. Social platforms provide invaluable insights on talking points across the organization at any point of time. The yearly surveys are giving way to more frequent and focused surveys and are good sources of specific employee inputs. However, verbal feedback will continue to play as important a role as those received from technology platforms. Both channels need to be open and acted upon similarly.

Governance – Constant reviews are required to ensure that employee input is responded to promptly and consistently, irrespective of the nature of the input or the effort/investment needed to pursue it.

Recognition – The best way to reinforce intent of the organization is to recognize great feedback and ideas from employees. Experiences circulated within the organization as stories (articles or videos) are very powerful and energize other employees to follow the example.

In a competitive and rapidly changing business environment, every employee should be treated as a potential innovator. They have to be heard and responded to – now and every time.

(Image from, CC0 Public Domain)

Bharath Ramakrishnan is a Lead Consultant in Human Capital Management. His focus area is HR Technology. He has over 23 years of experience in the technology industry. He regularly writes articles for business magazines and on LinkedIn. He also writes short stories and life lessons articles. He is a voracious reader and his other interests include mindfulness, chess, and jogging. He is a coffee lover!