On a recent trip to Scotland I was reminded of the importance of not dismissing employee grumbling too quickly.
So, here’s my wee tale from The Waterfront Restaurant in Inverness…
Our party of five dined in a Scottish pub. We made careful selections and sipped local beer as we awaited our food.
Our entrees arrived with quite an unusual presentation.
Picture this (or better yet, look at the above photo): White plates of food were arranged on thick particle board trays, with unfinished rough edges.
Our waitress, Natasha, could barely manage to set each tray on the table without losing control of the whole set-up and serving the meal into our laps.
She grimaced and groaned, “We hate these heavy boards. The plates are sliding about and we’re constantly getting splinters. But the chef won’t give them up no matter what we say.”
Immediately siding with Natasha, we dove into our meal. Not long after we were startled as a river of beer flowed down the center of our table. The particle boards served as river banks as the beer funneled onto my husband’s new jacket. “No problem, it’s waterproof,” he said with a laugh.
It was later that we realized how the spill occurred. When my sister-in-law placed her glass back on the table it caught the edge of the board, which was hard to spot in the dimly lit restaurant being the same shade of brown as the table.
Now Natasha’s grumbling was making even more sense.
By this point in the evening I was ready to march into the kitchen and take the board matter up with the chef myself, on behalf of the servers!
While I didn’t know the Chef’s point of view, it didn’t seem he was taking the server’s point of view into consideration.
When leaders initiate change they can count on employee grumbling to follow. And it can be hard to distinguish the grumbling (for the sake of not liking change) from the grumbling (due to valid concerns).
Not fully listening to employee grumbling is a trap every leader is vulnerable to.
I know. It happened to me when I was a school principal. I wasn’t always open to taking the time to truly get my team’s point of view. And as hard as it is to admit, I was often too vigorously committed to my way.
Even though I would tell my team, “My office door is always open and I welcome hearing what you have to say,” it took me several years and a few new tools to learn how to stay open when they pushed back or saw things differently from me.
The lesson here is for leaders to not so quickly dismiss employee grumbling (aka feedback).
Instead, when leaders stay open to what employees have to say (even when it shows up as annoyance and feels annoying) they usually find there’s something important to learn that will help improve their business, relationships and organizational culture.
And even better, it helps to walk a mile in an employee’s shoes or at the very least imagine what it would be like if we did.
I bet if this chef served dinner to just one table, those troublesome particle board serving trays would be history!
So I’d say leaders shouldn’t dismiss employee grumbling without first taking time to deeply understand the issue from the employee’s perspective. What would you say?
For more on feedback and other employee issues check out my award-winning book: Less Stress Business: A Guide for Hiring, Coaching and Leading Great Employees