The late and feisty Sam Goldwyn, the American film producer at MGM, was beside himself. After six straight box office flops, he brought together his staff and said, “I want you to tell me exactly what’s wrong with me and MGM, even if it means losing your job.” With that kind of a request, you can bet there were no takers. This might seem ridiculous, but this same scenario plays out far too often in small businesses across the land.

In one company I worked with, I recall the CEO asking his team this question, “So, what do you think about my strategy to expand our sales?” The sea of faces reflected a host of polite nods and half smiles. One or two comments were made that expressed that it sounded like a good strategy. But, was it really? Of course it wasn’t, and it failed miserably.

This scenario is played out time and time again in green industry companies everywhere. The business owner, CEO or department head communicates an idea or a strategy that is destined to fail, because the employees are just plain afraid to say what is on their mind. They are afraid to tell the truth. Why? Because their leader does not understand how to create an environment where it is safe to communicate openly and honestly. As a result, the best ideas are never shared, or mistakes that could be avoided are made, and the company and everyone who is part of it is worse off.

Here are three strategies which will help you prevent this from happening in your company or organization.

1. Make it clear that you want people to feel safe in expressing their ideas and suggestions in one-on-one situations and in group meetings. Explain why it is important to the growth of the company that you ask for, and hear the truth—good and bad—that they have to share. Never ostracize someone for telling the truth. In another company I worked with, I saw the owner of the company schedule and run a meeting to generate new ideas to grow the company. Shortly into the meeting, he literally became angry at some of the people who made suggestions that he did not agree with. There was a stunned silence in the room. From that point forward, no one dared to speak up and share their creative ideas. The owner’s very unprofessional outburst so intimidated everyone that it was like an iron door slamming shut. It turned off the possibility of the truth ever being spoken in that room.

2. Encourage dissent and blend in. Divide your meeting attendees into small groups. Start the discussion and sit with one of the groups. Then, after a few minutes, move to another small group and then another. Let them know by your presence and positive body language that you approve of any dissident ideas. Let the conversations flow and allow the opportunity for new ideas to be born.

By taking this approach, you will help foster an atmosphere of trust and openness. You will be supporting a group mindset that is willing to push the envelope and take reasonable risks.

Encourage your team to avoid rejecting any ideas from their peers.

Remind them that when two people in business always agree, one of them is not necessary. After several minutes, call the group back together into one large group. When the time is right, encourage any controversial questions about ideas that were raised, to be discussed.

Remind your team that this kind of brainstorming can be a source of some of the best kind of thinking. Make it clear to your team that new ideas are necessary, and the foundation for growth in your green company.

Sort out the workable ideas and use the TMET Formula before you implement them.

T- Try the idea.
M-Measure the results.
E- Evaluate the results.
T- Tweak or Toss the idea.

3. Finally, the third strategy to use, to get the truth from your employees, is to praise people privately and publicly who do share the truth, even if you don’t agree with it.

Remind people that it is okay to disagree as long as they do it agreeably. Discuss with your employees some examples of times when you worked with another company and you disagreed with your boss. What were the benefits? Share with them the consequences to your former company when they would not listen to contrary viewpoints.

Explain to them how important it is for everyone to be willing to stand up and speak up. Remind them that you are paying them to share their ideas.

Remember, you will not get the truth unless you ask for it. Reward, don’t punish people for telling it. As it is often said, no one is as smart as all of us. Remember to encourage people to speak their mind, keep your mind open, and then listen to your employees and managers. This one practice alone will go a long way in building trust and openness throughout your organization.

One of the goals of every successful business owner should be to create an environment where his or her people can learn and grow. This does not happen by accident, but rather, by design. Following these suggestions can make that happen and give your company a distinct advantage over your competitors.

So, to summarize this article:

1. Make it clear that you want people to feel safe in expressing their ideas and suggestions in one-on-one situations and in group meetings, and then support this activity.

2. Encourage dissent and blend in. Let them know by your presence and positive body language that you approve of dissident ideas.

3. Praise people privately and publicly who do share the truth, even if you don’t agree with it.

When you use these recommendations, you will be amazed at the brilliant and profitable ideas that can come from your team on a regular basis.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Tom Borg works with small and mid-size green industry companies to improve customer acquisition and retention. For more information or to ask him a question, contact him at 734-404-5909 or email him at: tom@tomborg.com or visit his website at www.tomborgconsulting.com.