As the protests unfold in Iran, my thoughts go to the companies I have worked with over the years who have created a similar environment. Yes, you read that correctly. There are some companies who are like Iran, who have penalized those who have spoken out with opinions not aligned with their leadership. Now of course, no one has lost their life speaking out in a company here in the United States. But they have been penalized, and while they have been penalized the company penalizing them has often received payback. What kind of payback? A lack of innovation and the loss of great employees.

Are you leading or employed by one of these companies? And if so, what is the impact on you and the organization?

What I’ve observed is that companies who have not made it safe for employees to share views, opinions, and ideas that oppose the company’s views generally lack creativity and lose many A-players over time to competitors. Why? Because A-players want their opinions to be heard and considered in planning and decision-making, and without A-players, team creativity is limited.

How not to be Iran

So if you’re experiencing Iran syndrome, what should you do? Start with open communication and admitting to your team that you want to make some changes to encourage open dialogue. You need to be sincere and genuine in your delivery. If your employees sense a false desire for change, it will backfire. Employees need to understand that the rules have really changed. Without this, their open communication won’t happen.

And, of course, actions are stronger than words. So what you say needs to be demonstrated by actions supporting the words. The next step is to ask questions and listen to employees’ opinions during meetings. If you start defending your position, employees will shut down. You will have demonstrated that no change has occurred. 

Also, be aware of using the “yes, but” technique that many leaders often use because, you know, they’re always right! As Marshall Goldsmith identified in his book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There,” using this technique will create resentment by those receiving the response and will stifle open discussions. And without open discussions, an organization will slowly die because original thought is not valued by leadership.

Make sure everyone has an opportunity to speak and share their ideas. And don’t let one person dominate the conversation. Introverts need to be invited into the conversation and often provide a perspective that hasn’t been heard.

What if you think the discussion is heading in the wrong direction? Before jumping in and sharing your opinion, and thus shutting down the conversation, ask yourself: How important is the decision? Is it critical to the success of your company or the project?

If the answer is yes, then start asking open-ended questions to get participants to think of alternative solutions. Remember that their solution may not be your solution, and that another solution is okay if it provides a similar – if not exact – result.

Continue to open your mind to alternative solutions during the process. And here is the key part of the process: When you hear an idea you like, bite your tongue and let the conversation continue. Let the team continue on to its own consensus. If the team members come to their own solution, they will own the solution and be more committed to making the solution a success.

In Summary

So if you want to be competitive and retain your high-potential employees, create a safe environment for employees to share their own opinions, ask questions, listen, and ask more questions until they come to their own solution – which they will own and be committed to successfully completing.

Image Credit: The Stock Exchange ( User: riesp