For any organization seeking to improve its company culture, open communication from employees is vital. Without it, the truth is sometimes swept under the carpet, depriving you of critical information to improve your business.
Encouraging entry-level employees to admit mistakes and provide honest feedback should begin on the first day they join your company. It can even be a part of your onboarding.
Teaching entry-level employees to tell the truth is about two things:
First, boosting the employees' courage to reveal their mistakes or failures in a project.
Second, encouraging them to come forward if they witness significant ethics breaches or wrongdoing. (Examples of misconduct include accounting infractions, lack of business integrity or considerable noncompliance with safety policies.)
Telling the truth is not about influencing employees to tattle on each other. It's about motivating them to say what they saw for the company's greater good, and for the greater good of its customers and, ultimately, all its employees.
Reasons Why Entry-Level Employees May Not Tell the Truth
Many factors cause employees of all levels to withhold the truth from their bosses. These factors are naturally more pronounced for entry-level employees who may not feel secure in their position as long-term employees.
Some of the top reasons for employee silence include:
An instinct for self-preservation. For example, making errors early on may cause anxiety about making a wrong impression before having had a chance to prove themselves.
Fear of being labeled troublemakers. Speaking up against co-workers can lead to ostracism, the silent workplace bully. We are social beings, driven by a need to belong, and being made to feel excluded is particularly painful.
Fear of retribution. Employees may be anxious about losing their job or harming their opportunities for advancement.
Strategies for Encouraging Entry-Level Hires to Tell the Truth
Given these fundamental concerns, the following strategies can allay entry-level employees' fear of being truthful and speaking up when things go wrong:
1. Help employees understand the value of telling the truth.
As you communicate your company's core values to your entry-level employees, give them compelling reasons for open communication and feedback. Help them see how withholding the truth can carry a tremendous price for an organization.
It's helpful to use examples and give them clear, logical reasons to show the consequences of not admitting mistakes or reporting violations.
Let's take customer service as an example. Being silent about what customers are saying because a new employee doesn't want to "rock the boat" prevents improvements in customer service, ultimately resulting in lost customers.
You can motivate an employee by showing them how an unaddressed customer complaint can find its way to social media, where a lack of response or delayed response can quickly escalate and harm the company.
Sharing this type of information with them cements learning.
2. Give entry-level employees the latitude to make mistakes.
Everyone makes mistakes, and entry-level employees may make more mistakes than others due to their inexperience in a new job.
To prevent them from covering up for their errors or not telling the truth, set up some good practices for dealing with your employees' mistakes.
First, show empathy when an employee makes an error. Instead of punishing or berating them, focus on the lessons learned from their mistake. It helps to determine the root causes of the error and showing them how to fix it.
Most importantly, train them on avoiding making the same mistake and set up some safeguards to ensure the mistake doesn't reoccur. This rational behavior sends a clear message to employees that it’s safe to tell the truth when something goes wrong.
Secondly, give employees clear guidelines for coming forward when they make a mistake. Train employees to tell the entire truth without whitewashing some of the facts. Stress the importance of doing so without delay.
3. Model a truth-telling culture by being truthful yourself.
You can't always control the entire company's level of candor, but you can influence it by setting an example in your department or immediate work environment.
Do employees close to you see you respond to contentious issues with complete honesty?
Do you always tell the truth when something goes wrong?
Do you adhere to the same behavioral guidelines you set for your employees?
A truth-telling culture starts at the top. Model the behavior you want others to follow. When entry-level employees witness their leaders acknowledge their mistakes and successes, they see them as credible and more likely to follow their lead.
4. Reward entry-level employees for telling the truth.
It takes courage and fortitude to step up and take responsibility when things have gone wrong—especially for an entry-level employee. Keep track of incidents where your entry-level employees chose to admit a mistake or be accountable for a failure on the job.
Once noted, reward this desired behavior. Calling it out goes a long way to reinforce the behavior you want to see. Appreciation for truth-telling can also strengthen their bond with you and the company.
5. Make meaningful connections with entry-level employees.
Earn entry-level employees' trust by establishing a genuine rapport with them. Trust goes a long way in making employees feel safe to come to you with the truth—the greater the faith, the stronger the chances of information sharing.
In a world of increasing interconnectedness, today's employees crave connection. It's not enough to say that you have an open-door policy. Create opportunities to connect with new employees regularly.
Going beyond the superficial "How are you?" and asking about their life or their plans for the weekend can help strengthen that human connection. Listening with interest, scheduling a lunch or grabbing a coffee once in a while go a long way in making entry-level employees feel comfortable that they belong.
6. Employ multiple safe channels for collecting feedback.
No matter what you do, there will always be employees who don’t trust the system. If employees don’t fully trust that you will help them if they reveal any weaknesses or wrongdoing, they will not show up at your door ready to take ownership for mistakes or report violations.
To overcome this challenge and encourage entry-level employees to be forthcoming, set up multiple channels for their voices to be heard. Reporting procedures can include a suggestion box or an anonymous ethics hotline.
If your policy directs employees to voice ethics concerns with their immediate supervisor, consider allowing them to bypass their supervisors if this serves as an added encouragement to step forward.
Telling the truth is a crucial characteristic of a successful business culture. Your entry-level employees may be the future leaders of your company. Teaching them to tell the truth right from the start sets the tone for the kind of culture you want to create.
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