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How Can You Avoid the Dangers of a “Yes” Culture in Your Company?

By Liz Elting

Business2Community - November 19, 2014

One of the first decisions you need to make as an entrepreneur or new executive is what kind of company atmosphere you’re aiming to create. Many entrepreneurs prioritize a company vision with high employee involvement and engagement, removing hierarchical divides and encouraging company-wide brainstorming sessions where everyone is sharing their ideas. If it’s well-executed, this atmosphere does have the potential for some great benefits, such as higher employee enthusiasm and greater company loyalty. However, this can also lead to employees at all levels feeling highly pressured in front of management, which runs the risk of turning into one of the most dangerous company cultures of all: the “yes” culture.

Here are two of the biggest dangers of allowing this dynamic to thrive (and don’t worry, I have some tips for avoiding it, too):

  1. Stifled creativity: Employees are your best resources, but only when they feel comfortable enough to voice their opinions. While some individuals may do well in the spotlight, others may not be comfortable brainstorming with and having direct interaction with every single one of their bosses in the same room. Because of this, the best ideas could remain unheard.
  2. Distorted reality: Enthusiasm can be contagious, but what happens if your enthusiasm spreads to employees who don’t have the time to execute on what they just agreed to, but are too afraid to say they can’t handle it because they want to continue being heard and dependable? Employees who can’t say no are the same ones who burn out early, which leads to a turnover rate no business owner wants.

So how can you sidestep this risk and successfully establish that open company culture you’ve envisioned?

First, be sure to temper your reaction when the team is sharing ideas. This doesn’t mean offering fake applause or insincere encouragement, but rather taking the time to let an option sink in and noting you’ll give it some consideration, even if there are holes. This subtle tactic sends the message that any idea is worth sharing, regardless of the audience.

After you set that tone, the next (and possibly the hardest) step is to just stop talking. Let your team offer their perspectives without falling into the trap of asking leading questions or getting carried away with your own ideas. It’s a challenge for most executives and founders; clearly you care about the company and have solid strategies or you wouldn’t have made it this far, and it can be difficult to keep that stream of consciousness under control. Make sure you fight that urge if you want to establish the right dynamic.

Lastly, follow up with your team after any group discussions. Let them know what you decided and how their input affected that decision, even if you didn’t prominently use their suggestions. This demonstrates that you remember their ideas and weren’t simply letting the conversation go in one ear and out the other. People can respect if their ideas ultimately weren’t the right fit, as long as it’s clear those ideas were heard in the first place.

If the risks to this kind of inclusive, high-energy environment aren’t properly mitigated from the start, you’ll be left with a group of employees who may appear enthusiastic on the surface, but lack the confidence to communicate their perspective to the upper-level team. However, keep these tips in mind and you’re more likely than not to create the kind of welcoming, cohesive environment you’ve always had in mind.