“20 million workers are not delivering their full capability or realising their potential at work!”

That was one of the incredible findings by the Engage for Success Taskforce back in 2011 and a wake-up call for UK employers.

The taskforce identified 4 key enablers to turn the situation around and in this third installment of our “Engage or Die!” series, we have a look at the third enabler – “Employee Voice”. We explore what it means, give it a Colour Works spin and suggest ways in which you and your organisation can bring it to life for everyone’s benefit.



‘An effective and empowered Employee Voice – Employees views are sought out, they are listened to and see their opinions count and make a difference’

Once again, it’s not rocket science, is it. Employees who are asked their opinion and have those opinions acted on feel more valued and therefore engaged. Indeed ‘The Sunday Times Top 100 Companies to Work for’ found that feeling listened to was the most important factor in determining how much respondents valued their boss and their organisation.

Being heard:

  • reinforces a sense of belonging in an organisation
  • builds a feeling of self-worth in that my contribution can have a wider impact than the specific nature of my responsibilities
  • ensures greater buy-in to decisions made.

And, by asking for, listening to and acting on the views of their staff, employers don’t only get more engaged and committed employees, they also get invaluable perspectives that can make a unique contribution to organisational strategy, to cost-cutting, to internal process efficiency, to customer care, to product development, to decision-making and problem-solving in general.

Diversity is strength. The wider the range of perspectives we are able to practically consider, the more robust our decision-making process, the better our decision.

Tony Whittaker, Chief Executive of United Welsh Housing Association, which operates a People Engagement Model to empower its staff to contribute their ideas and opinions, says:

“In our experience, running the company in this way really motivates people. This in turn leads to improved services and satisfied customers, as well as increased profitability. Indeed this approach has improved our performance in several key areas, from rent collection to staff absence through sickness.”

Another Win-Win! Obvious! Easy! So how come lack of Employee Voice is such an issue?!

Maybe because involving employees in one-off project groups or annual staff surveys is all well and good (as long as their contributions are acknowledged and appropriate actions are taken) but misses the main opportunity – me the person!

If 20 million people in the UK aren’t fully engaged in their work, it means they probably feel IGNORED, UNAPPRECIATED, UNDERUTILISED, BORED, UNFULFILLED! And this is where we ought to be focusing our Employee Voice attention – getting all those with responsibility for others, from Team Leaders to CEOs, to focus on the job of leading and developing their people, unleashing the swathes of untapped potential that lies there.

And to do this, perhaps we need to go back to basics. They say that if we assume that a new employee starts with 100% enthusiasm, it takes an employer 3 months to reduce that to 60%! HELP!!

So, what are the basics for managing others?

1. Take every opportunity to ask for your people’s opinion – not only on work-related topics, but on how they are as a person.

When a top performer hands in their notice, we give them an “exit interview” to find out the reason. TOO LATE! Maybe if we’d made the effort to ask them on a regular basis how engaged/stretched/motivated/valued/fulfilled they were, we wouldn’t have lost them. We invest a lot of time, effort and money asking our customers what they want from us. The marketing gurus tap in to our emotions to try and sell to us. So why do we ignore the emotional state of our “biggest asset”?

So, start asking them:
what gifts they have so that you can find ways to let them use them
• what’s holding them back to enable you, as their leader, to unblock their way
• what lights the fire in their belly (research clearly shows the biggest motivators are intrinsic, i.e. inexpensive!) so that you can provide it
• what their dreams and aspirations are so that together you can clear a path towards their fulfilment

2. Value all contributions.

Whether a new starter or an old-timer, a teenager or someone near retirement, a Director or a cleaner, all perspectives are valid and invaluable.

3. Have broad shoulders!

If we want the benefit of our people’s opinions, we must accept that they will at times be challenging, even critical, so we need broad shoulders to be able to accept that opinion and respond in an appropriate way. If the response is overly defensive, aggressive or dismissive, honest opinions will dry up. Be really courageous and ask them how they think you’re doing as their leader, what you could be doing better, what you maybe should stop doing?! Remember – feedback is a gift!

4. Respect all styles.

This is, of course, the cornerstone of the colour model , our Personal Effectiveness workshop and everything that comes after, but there’s no harm in constantly reminding ourselves of the importance of accepting that other people’s communication styles may be the polar opposite of our own (and therefore possibly very frustrating) and that if we am to connect with them (and therefore benefit from the insight that their perspective will bring), it is us who will have to adapt our style to better meet their needs, to build the rapport and the trust, to get their honest contribution. And that includes the environment – remember that whereas some are comfortable thinking on their feet in a public space, others prefer time for reflection and greater privacy to voice their opinion.

5. Listen and acknowledge!

It might sound obvious but these are tough skills, especially where behavioural differences exist.

So, those of you with an extraverted preference (leading with Fiery Red or Sunshine Yellow) who, even if you’ve remembered to stop talking and ask the question in the first place, spend most of the time not listening to the answer but thinking of what your next contribution is going to be – train yourself to perhaps block out other thoughts and distractions, maintain eye contact, and demonstrate you’ve fully and clearly understood what the other person’s been saying (by perhaps reflecting it back to them).

And those with an introverted preference (leading with Cool Blue or Earth Green), who already probably have a reputation for being a good listener, please understand that sometimes your lack of facial expression and the slowness of your response can give the impression you’re not interested. Train yourself to perhaps put a little more effort into the external signs that you’ve heard the other person and are interested in what they’re saying.

6. Meeting management.

How many of all the meetings you attend would you say had been as effective and useful as they could have been?! Did everyone need to be there? Did everyone contribute? Did you?! Did it go on too long? Was it well chaired?

Meetings are not only very expensive, they are a unique opportunity to share perspectives and debate intensively in order to involve and engage those present whilst coming up with the best solutions. Managing them effectively is an art and requires training and support – The Colour Works could help.

7. PDR

(or equivalent) management. This is one of the rare opportunities that most employees have to see their boss in a one-to-one situation, yet how many bosses have been taught how to run them effectively and ensure that the employee is even more engaged, enthused and motivated afterwards than before? That’s certainly not how I remember mine! Again, we can offer support if required.


Any opportunity that an employee has to be heard is positive as long as their contribution is acknowledged and actions results. However, to concentrate on business-related topics is to ignore the crux of the disengagement issue – the opportunity to ignite the individual through an interest in them and a coaching style of management that unleashes their potential and allows them to be the best they can be.

So, for an Employee Voice initiative to bear fruit, the approach has to be whole-hearted with a commitment to a culture of honesty, respect, transparency, diversity and inclusion, led from the top and lived on a daily basis.


Read ENGAGE OR DIE! Part 2 – The Role of the Manager

Read the ENGAGE OR DIE! Part 4 – Organisational Integrity

Read up on emotional intelligence, leadership, leading explorers, the coaching conundrum and your difficult person

Why not view our solutions on leadership today?

Related Articles

Jan 14, 2020

How to get your 360 Feedback programme right

360 feedback surveys can deliver terrific insights into personal and team performances and are well worth adding to a leadership …

Read More
Jan 03, 2020

360 Feedback – How to Improve your Leadership Performance

Roughly 85% of Fortune 500 companies around the world use 360 feedback surveys as an integral part of their leadership …

Read More
Nov 07, 2019

Psychological safety – why it matters, and seven ways leaders can build it within their teams

A 2017 Gallup report concluded that only three in 10 U.S. workers think their opinions count when they’re at work, …

Read More