Making sure your employees have a voice is critical to running a successful business.

Is there any owner who hasn’t read a book or heard a lecture that didn’t advocate the need to get buy-in from employees?

Owners are always looking for buy-in from their staff but it’s proven elusive. Some may even believe they have a good culture of staff buying in.

But when I arrive onsite to do my first step with a new consulting client, I’m seeking to discover the company culture. I find it’s usually one of these three types of cultures:

1. “Us” vs. “Them”

2. “Us” and “Them”

3. “We”

The first two are far and away the majority of what I see when I’m onsite to begin work.

There’s little in the way of buy-in from the staff and oftentimes a “We” attitude is a million miles away. There are many reasons for this. The primary one is a lack of communication. Or communication that is really one-sided. And finally a history of broken promises, which has led to trust being destroyed.

A good example is management running the company by issuing one-way memos or e-mail declarations (aka decrees as if they were coming from the King of the Castle).

Many of the companies I visit have decided they needed input and buy-in so they have hung up a suggestion box! And I bet you may have tried to do the same thing.

I’ll admit it. I did that years ago, too. And all I got for my efforts was either no response or anonymous complaints, both of which proved to be worthless to me and to those who worked at my company.

What I discovered quite by accident was that when I built my operation manuals and had the employees get involved in the creative stages of development, participating openly and freely during the rollout process, I got constructive feedback - wonderful suggestions on how to make things even better - and the real buy-in I had been seeking for years.

I also learned that only in a safe environment and ongoing meetings can employees feel safe enough to speak openly. The reality is you need to ask those who perform the various tasks it takes to run your company how to do their jobs in a better, cheaper or faster way. They know because they do the work every day. And you can only hear what you need to hear if you let the team know upfront - and often - that telling you what you need to know and what you don’t want to hear is actually encouraged at your company.

To make this promise a reality in your employees’ minds, you must set firm ground rules. These suggestions need to be in writing and signed off on in writing by you and your employees.

Five Solid Ways To Get Buy-In

1. Meet on a weekly basis to discuss how you currently do the various tasks it takes to run your company. These meetings will create the foundation for sound written policies and procedures.

Note: It’s much better if you have already created rough policies and procedures with a small group and let the rest of the staff know it’s not official until they have given their input.

2. Let employees know that anyone who can contribute a better, cheaper or faster way to do anything the company does today will be heard and, if approved, it will become new policy and procedure.

3. Promise to listen to all input in a nonjudgmental way. As long as it is constructive and not personal, it will be heard.

4. When the meeting starts getting bogged down, the moderator will have the right to say, “Let’s agree to do it this way for today and revisit this again at the next meeting.”

5. Someone must take notes at the meeting and will be empowered to make sure the written policies and procedures are updated and then redistributed to all.

I want you to know that this will be a wonderful experience for all. I can say that because it was my experience at my own shop and has been at the shops all around the country in all the various trades I’ve worked with for more than seven years.

This buy-in and new enthusiasm by staff tends to take the owner by surprise, but I’ve seen it happen successfully. The reason it’s not a surprise to me is I’ve learned that your staff is itching to have a voice at your company. And it’s not just to make their own lives easier, but rather it’s to better serve the customer and the company.

Don’t despair if your shop is an “Us vs. Them” or “Us and Them” today. This, too, can be repaired, but it’ll take consistent effort and working on the right things with the right mindset.

Do these five things and begin to create a company that your staff will love to come to work for and you’ll love to own.