The upside of employee pushback

Paul Nolan

Are your employees engaged enough to push back against your company’s questionable strategies?

In researching this issue’s cover feature on the ROI of employee engagement, I understandably came across plenty of feel-good concepts like setting clear goals, communicating regularly and meaningfully, providing ongoing development and advancement opportunities, and recognizing and rewarding performance.

That’s all great stuff. But then I took a break from issue planning and read a Fast Company story about a mutiny of sorts at Meetup, an online social networking portal that allows members to start and join interest-based groups. CEO and co-founder Scott Heiferman was wrapping up a two-day offsite with a final brainstorming session.

According to the article, the group of about 50 employees was asked to divide into smaller groups to discuss topics they had scribbled on Post-its earlier in the workshop. Two Meetup employees — a strategy director and a designer — convened at a table with two other employees and emerged 45 minutes later with a challenge for their CEO: “Make some quick changes to appeal to broader and younger audiences, or Meetup is going to get left behind.”

The article states that Heiferman left the meeting angry, but the employees’ comments lingered with him. “I said to myself, if I’m so bothered by this, there must be something to it.” After a couple of weeks, Heiferman put a plan into action to develop the employees’ challenge into actual change.

We are constantly reminded these days that young workers are enthused by work environments that are stimulating, provide room for growth and offer plenty of learning opportunities — even learning by failure if need be. But if they can’t get what they want out of their current job, the warning goes, they won’t stick around long.

Heiferman was reportedly hurt by his workers’ criticisms, and understandably so. However, looked at another way (after the sting had subsided), he should have been encouraged by the fact they like their jobs enough to try to fix them rather than bolt.

By all means, take our cover story’s recommendations for clear communication, specific goal setting and regular recognition to heart. But realize that if you face a mini mutiny of your own, there may be a big, fat silver lining around that cloud.