Courageous Cultures: Empowering the Employee Voice

how to get employees to speak up

Do your employees experience FOSU ("Fear Of Speaking Up")? In this episode, Karin Hurt and David Dye, authors of Courageous Cultures, discuss how leaders can eliminate FOSU in their organizations, to get employees to speak up, step up and become corporate microinnovators, problem solvers, and customer advocates. Here, they explore:

  • What makes a culture "courageous";
  • Common barriers to courage;
  • The role of diversity in a courageous culture; and
  • The Seven Basic Steps to Encouraging a Courageous Culture!
speaking up at work

Karin Hurt & David Dye

   Leadership Development

“What we're talking about is cultivating a culture where everybody raises their hand, contributes, advocates for the customers, is thinking about how you solve problems, how you make things better, and more effective in the workplace.”

If you prefer to read along while you listen, we've done all the hard work for you! We listened back to this episode and took notes below, and access is free! 


Courageous Cultures

  • Karin Hurt and David Dye co-authored the book Courageous Cultures. But before that, they also co-authored another book: Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results—Without Losing Your Soul.
  • Courageous Cultures came about after they heard stories of employees and managers who felt like they couldn’t speak up to or share ideas with leadership.
  • The courage they describe in the book is not about fighting through big topics like discrimination or harassment in the workplace - it’s about having the courage to share everyday ideas for customer service, problem solving, and enhancing productivity.
  • “What we're talking about is cultivating a culture where everybody raises their hand, contributes, advocates for the customers, is thinking about how you solve problems, how you make things better, and more effective in the workplace.”
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Barriers to Courage

  • Past negative experiences overpower past positive experiences. A worker is more likely to remember times they’ve been punished for speaking up than times they were rewarded.  
  • A common belief among employees is the belief that their contributions and ideas aren’t valuable, and they can’t bring about change. 
  • 49% of workers report that they aren’t consistently asked for ideas by their leaders. So many leaders use an open door policy, but that policy can be perceived as too passive. 
  • “Safe silence is a default.” The best way to not get in trouble is to stay silent, so that’s what workers do -- but that stifles idea sharing in a company.
  • If leaders create a culture that encourages people to share ideas, then employees will do so, and the company will be better off for it. The company will perform better, they’ll beat their competitors, and recruitment and retention will improve. 

FOSU

  • FOSU (“Fear Of Speaking Up”) is the fear and reluctance of people to raise their hand and offer ideas. 
  • Avoiding FOSU is a primary tenet of building a courageous culture.  
  • FOSU can apply to employees, managers, suppliers, and even customers.

Microinnovators, Problem Solvers, and Client Advocates

  • Microinnovation: Microinnovators are focused on small workplace enhancements, which create a slow and steady evolution for the organization. Not everything is about one big world-changing innovation -- small, daily innovations are just as important!   
    • One company they worked with implemented a new policy when they shifted to remote work: any meeting that would have been an hour long in person was cut down to 45 minutes. A change as small as this helped increase efficiency and save the company time. 
    • Fear forage: ask your team what their hopes and fears for this workplace and their careers are. That way, you can learn what you need to work on.
  • Problem Solvers: employees should be taught how to think through and present their ideas in the best way, instead of just throwing any and all random ideas and problems at leadership.
  • Client Advocates: it’s important to speak up on behalf of the client or customer you are serving. The goal is always to add value to your client. 
    • Example: in a hospital setting, one doctor roleplayed as a patient with their coworkers during meetings. This helped the other doctors and nurses gain perspective on what was like to be a patient, so they were able to serve them better. 

The Seven Basic Steps to Encouraging A Courageous Culture

  • Navigate the Narrative 
    • Tap into your own story. 
    • Make a courage map, a map of your most courageous moments in your work history. Think about those moments, what you did, and what you learned. This will help you realize what you can do to create a courageous culture for your employees. 
    • Fear forage: ask your team what their hopes and fears for this workplace and their careers are. That way, you can learn what you need to work on.
  • Create Clarity
    • Don’t just ask people for ideas - that won’t get you very far. 
    • Ask yourself: where do you need good ideas, and what does a good idea look like?
    • Be able to ask your employees for exactly what you need.
  • Cultivate Curiosity
    • Go out and ask courageous questions that are both specific and vulnerable. You should be clear about where you need the idea and clearly identify that improvement is possible. 
    • One example of a courageous question is “What is the number one thing that is frustrating our customers right now?”
  • Respond with Regard
    • Make it clear that employees’ ideas can make things happen.
    • Thank your employees for their contribution.
    • Provide information about the idea to your employees. Does it need more thinking/workshopping? Can you implement it right away? Have you tried the idea before without success? Is it not a great idea right now?
    • Your response should invite your employees to keep bringing you more ideas!
  • Practice the Principle
    • Not every best practice will work for every person in every location. 
    • What worked for a company’s New Jersey branch may not work for their Virginia branch. 
    • Find the principles in a best practice, so you can implement that further.
  • Galvanize the Genius
    • When you figure out what you’re going to do, it’s time to implement it and communicate it to the organization.
  • Create an Infrastructure for Courage
    • Align all of your human systems: 
  • Start by communicating your courageous culture to new employees.
  • Ask new employees what worked well in their old workplace culture - you don’t have to use their ideas, but it can help open your mind up to successful initiatives from other organizations!

Diversity in A Courageous Culture

  • It’s not equally easy for everyone to speak up. For example, a woman or a person of color may not feel as comfortable speaking up as a white male would.
  • People need to feel comfortable with sharing their stories of discrimination and hardship without being dismissed. And they need to know that their leaders are truly listening to them. 

Let’s Grow Leaders

  • Karin and David Hurt co-founded Let’s Grow Leaders, a management consulting firm. 
  • They offer long-term leadership development programs and keynote speaking. 
  • They also have a blog and a podcast! 

Karin Hurt Backstory

  • BA in Communication from Wake Forest University.
  • MA in Organizational Communication from Towson University.
  • Took doctoral coursework in Organizational Communication at the University of Maryland, where she currently serves as an adjunct MBA faculty member.
  • Completed the Advanced Certificate Program in Organization Development and Human Resources at the Columbia Business School.
  • Ms. Hurt been working in customer service, sales, and human resources for over two decades, since she was the Assistant Manager for the First National Bank of Maryland in 1989. 
  • She also worked at Verizon Wireless for 19 years, eventually serving as the Executive Director of National Operations.
  • Today, she is the CEO and co-founder of the management consulting firm Let’s Grow Leaders and the co-author of the book Courageous Cultures.

David Dye Backstory

  • BA in Political Science from University of Colorado Boulder. 
  • MA in Nonprofit Management from Regis University.
  • Mr. Dye’s been leading teams for two decades. After serving as an elected city councilman, he started working for Colorado Uplift as the Program Vice President before becoming CEO. 
  • Since then, he’s been a leadership speaker and trainer all over the country.
  • Today, he is the President and co-founder of the management consulting firm Let’s Grow Leaders and the co-author of the book Courageous Cultures.


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About the Author Jacqueline Gregory

As a creative, persuasive communications professional with extensive experience guiding projects from concept through completion Jacqui has produced custom communications for some of the world's best known brands. Producing ProjectHR has been one of her favorite ways to engage and delight HR and Labor Relations professionals!

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