How to Cultivate Engaged Employees – 3rd in a series of 6 related Posts

Disagreement is good!

Guideline #3 – Invite Disagreement

In the recent HBR article, “How to Cultivate Engaged Employees” author Charalambos Vlachoutsicos encourages inviting disagreement to get employees engaged. He cites an example of the difficulties of managers at a company in Belarus, which has survived three generations under authoritarian communism, to get employees to speak up, disagree and offer opinion – even when they have constructive ideas to contribute. He writes, “Bosses in more open cultures might see this problem as alien,” but I don’t think that’s true. Even in the United States it can be challenging to create a culture where employees feel free to disagree.

At Intertech, we have institutionalized the process of open discussion in a couple of ways. For example, at our annual executive team offsite two-day planning meeting we engage a facilitator (someone not on our staff) to encourage open dialogue. I also remind everyone that either we can be hard on ourselves, or our competition can do so. Disagreement and healthy debate is good! However, no matter how lively the debate may be, we all adhere to one rule: once we make a decision, no one “backtracks or backstabs.” In other words, we move forward in unison.

We also seek the unvarnished feedback of all our employees. I describe in chapter 28 of my book Building A Winning Business the importance of letting everyone weigh in. We do this through an annual half-day all-company “Town Hall” style meeting in which the executive management team is not present. A senior, trusted team member leads the discussion, giving all employees a “safe” way to disagree and bring up ideas without worrying about upsetting senior leaders. Every year this process has led to new good ideas and impacted the direction of our company.