Half of the country woke up last Wednesday morning wondering “what happened here?” How could nearly every poll, pundit, and expert be so wrong in predicting the next President of the United States? Through canvassing, online polls, telephone polls, social media mentions, rally size, and so many other ways, we thought we accurately analyzed all of the data that should predict voter behaviors. This same methodology has worked in nearly every other presidential election in modern history. But this time, the system failed. What happened here?
It boils down to trust. The questions were asked. “Who do you plan to vote for in the upcoming election?” But a large group of voters didn’t feel comfortable sharing their true opinions or plans. So, no matter how large the polling sample size was, the results were flawed by nature. Garbage in; garbage out.
This shouldn’t be a surprise, though. In organizations, when we take engagement and satisfaction surveys, we hear our own employees questioning whether or not they can be honest in their responses. When there’s a fundamental distrust in how the data will be used, survey participants will say what they think the organization wants to hear.
The same goes for leaders. When team members don’t feel heard and supported, they will nod their heads in agreement to preserve their own survival. They have families to care for and bills to pay. It’s easier to passively agree than voice dissent. But submission does not translate into acceptance, and eventually counterproductive behaviors will break through. Just as people voted their conscience behind curtains of the voter booth, your employees will deviate from the plan when no one is watching.
If employees feel it isn’t safe to express dissent, alternatives, or questions, you are herding sheep, not leading employees. Team members who lack trust in leadership may even sabotage a plan in extreme circumstances.
“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” – Steven R. Covey
Before you ask for feedback, make sure you’ve laid the groundwork for open, honest communication. Explain why everyone’s opinion is important. Be transparent about how the information will be used. Give permission for people to disagree. Don’t put anyone on the spot. Don’t immediately shoot down ideas. Allow time for reflection and careful consideration from everyone involved. And above all, communicate what you learn. Be sure to close the loop.
With each successful feedback session, you will build trust among your team and the will be more likely to share their thoughts openly in the future.
“Trust is built in drops and lost in buckets”- Kevin A. Plank