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We should give organisational culture the seriousness it deserves

Editorial Team
11/05/2017 8:48 AM

Manager and employees always face a dilemma when it comes to expressing their differences at work. Bosses also feel uncomfortable expressing their differences with subordinates. Subordinates feel the pressure to keep silent with their bosses. It is very difficult for managers, for example, to give negative performance feedback to subordinates especially in organisations that place a high value on being polite and avoiding confrontation.

Not disagreeing with people is associated with the organisational culture and the values that go with that culture such as respect, humility, and good manners. People silence themselves to avoid confrontation, embarrassment and other dangers associated with disagreeing with people. However, this trend is killing organisations as many bad things go unchallenged. What makes many people in organisations keep quiet is that the culture in such organisations punishes people for disagreeing with bosses or peers. As a result, the safest way to hold on to their jobs is to agree to everything the boss says. This desire to remain silent has been worsened by the current economic challenges where most subordinates would not dare disagree with their bosses for fear of losing their jobs. It might be the same reason why corruption has taken root in our organisations. Human resources professionals who are supposed to be the “voice of conscience” are often not given a chance to play this role.

Even in cases where senior people make mistakes or wrong decisions many people would rather keep quiet than challenge the boss. Those who try to speak out find themselves sidelined in organisational proceedings. Most individuals who go against their organisations or express their concerns publicly are severally punished. If they are not booted outright, they are usually marginalized.

Managers and their subordinates need to understand that silence is extremely costly to both the organisation and the individual. Not allowing employees or managers to express their differences with bosses has a high psychological price for individuals, generating feelings of humiliation, anger, resentment and if not expressed can contaminate every interaction and undermine productivity.

The problem of people not giving the correct feedback starts when we choose not to confront our differences. People normally do not want to express their differences because it is terribly difficult to go on the road of mending differences with individuals. When they discuss issues with their bosses, most people prefer to cover up their differences than to try to discuss them openly. As a result important issues go unresolved in many organisations. Because they do not want to disagree with their bosses, most employees use silence as a strategy to forge ahead with their careers. Instead of being productive, they try to make the person above them like them so that they may get favours in future.

What then are the implications of the silence we experience in organisations on managing performance and giving performance feedback? Most managers know from research and experience the value and importance of giving feedback on employee productivity. Feedback keeps employees’ work- related activities directed towards desired organisational goals. Frequently, managers avoid discussing performance issues with their employees. The most important issues, which need attention, are often ignored. The impact of this failure to give direct, constructive and timely feedback is enormous – affecting the bottom line of many organisations. This fear of giving feedback is one of the worst obstacles to managing employees’ performance effectively. This results directly in lower productivity and low employee morale.

How does an organisation ensure that every manager understands that giving regular, honest, timely, constructive feedback is one of the primary responsibilities of managing employees? It is often assumed that managers understand that their objective is business output. However, the “fear” of giving feedback stops managers from achieving potential increase in output. Managers also avoid giving negative feedback in order to avoid confrontation with their subordinates. What makes this process even more difficult is the fact that the recipient of the feedback normally reacts to the feedback in a way that will put the manager under pressure to give all the facts related to the problem. The manager unfortunately might not have all the required facts to be able to prove their case to the employee. Managers who have all the confidence in their subordinates and depend more on them for results are likely to give feedback to their subordinate than those who do not. Constructive feedback may be enhanced when the person giving it understands the value of clarifying issues to the recipient.

Feedback is most effective in reinforcing or improving work performance when the employee has confidence in the basis of that feedback. And you, as the immediate manager, will be more confident when giving feedback based on information that you can support. Feedback based on observed or verifiable data is more likely to influence employee behaviour than that which cannot be supported by firsthand information. It is not always possible to observe employees at work, but you should build occasions to observe their performance into your workday. In that way, you provide opportunities to understand what they do, to talk with and get feedback from them, to see employees as they and to recognize areas in which their performance could be improved. When employees receive feedback that is timely, frequent and specific they are more likely to understand what is expected of them, repeat successful performance and improve their work when necessary.

Memory Nguwi is an Occupational Psychologist, Data Scientist, Speaker, & Managing Consultant- Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd a management and human resources consulting firm. https://www.linkedin.com/in/memorynguwi/ Phone 481946-48/481950/2900276/2900966 or email: mnguwi@ipcconsultants.com or visit our website at www.ipcconsultants.com

Editorial Team

This article was written by one of the consultants at IPC

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