106 Communications

6th Sense

The Democratic Workplace: giving people a voice

January 2015 | Democratic Workplace, Employee Engagement

Employee voice is defined by Engage for Success as one of the four ‘enablers’ for employee engagement. And in many ways, it’s the most important aspect to creating a truly democratic workplace – because it puts employees at the heart of the solution.

To hear the employee voice requires mechanisms which go beyond an annual survey to gather responses (complaints…?). Rather, employee views should be sought out and used continuously as part of the decision-making process by leaders. True listening starts with a culture of participation and involvement.

It’s easy to assume that employee voice is more easy to hear in small, nimble start ups, built on a backbone of colleague contribution – but in fact, it’s possible to create a culture of participation in the largest of businesses too.

“A company which cuts off voice from its colleagues is missing a really important source of ideas generation” says Jacki Connor, Director of Employee Engagement at Sainsbury’s. This is a sentiment supported by Justin King, who attributes much of his successful reign as CEO to the contributions of his colleagues.

King’s leadership style was to be open and transparent; and he used this to grow participation throughout the business with programmes like ‘Tell Justin’ and a voluntary listening panel on the ‘My Sainsbury’s’ intranet site. King and his leadership team attended ‘Start the Day’ listening sessions in person every morning in stores, offices and depots across the country. Colleague Councils, a more structured tool for submitting colleague suggestions, complemented these informal listening panels. And the ‘You said/We did’ forum kept colleagues updated on suggestions being implemented.

Listening to employees is key not only to discovering and diffusing potential issues; but also to tapping into the collective brainpower of an entire business. Creating a democratic workplace means businesses can benefit from the sum of the whole, resulting in happier colleagues who know their opinions count at the very top.

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