Last Updated Apr 20, 2010 9:14 AM EDT
To assure your staff that you can handle the truth, you'll have to understand that you're up against their "implicit voice theories" -- basically, beliefs accumulated over time that enable employees to choose a course of action based on past experience, say at a prior job. "We recognize that people bring baggage to intimate relationships," says Detert. "But for some reason, when we study relationships within organizations, we assume behavior is only a function of the current job." Nightmare bosses aside, when staffers hold their tongues, they're reacting to your role, not you.
Let them know that things will be different this time around by going out of your way to seek feedback and close loops. Don't just assume that because you're jovial and non-threatening, your direct reports will eagerly walk through your "open door" to share their challenges. Instead, says Detert, go to them. Stop by and ask what you or the team can do better. Find out what worked best at their last job.
Somewhere along the line, members of your team have likely internalized the message that you can't raise an issue unless it's accompanied by a solution. Nonsense, says Detert. At meetings, explicitly state that you want to hear about problems. As for the solutions, tell your team you'll work on those together.