Respond Effectively to Complaints and Improve Your Career
Even though you may not like it, your career success as a manager is dependent on the satisfaction or engagement of your employees.
Of course, even the most popular manager catches wind of employee complaints from time to time. And some people are simply more prone to kvetching than other. Nevertheless, the effective manager listens to the negative along with the positive and tries to make use of it.
How can you best take advantage of all the complaints employees bring you?
You may be thinking that your employees complain all the time. That is normal. What IS vital to you are the specific complaints that are pointers to bigger problems.
How do you begin to identify those bigger complaints, so you can solve them and find greater career success?
One of my best sources of new ideas I get is a quarterly salon I regularly attend.
At the most recent Salon, a noted career expert asked the group if anyone knew anything about “whining” or “complaining” in an organization. Of course, most of us know what she means. Almost all employees whine by making tesy little comments about their organization. (Why don’t we have clean break rooms? Why doesn’t anyone listen to me? Why do we have to do things this way?) We have all heard grumbles, and in all probability, we have been grumblers at one point or another.
Just as I was about to discard the idea of grumbling and complaining as endemic to organizations, our host insightfully talked about two categories of complaints: the grumbles and the meta-grumbles.
Can you see the immediate value of this categorization to your career success?
Maslow—of Maslow’s hierarchy fame—explains the difference between grumbles and meta-grumbles this way:
Grumbles are complaints about relatively small matters…. Meta-grumbles, on the other hand, are complaints about such things as lack of clarity about goals, people needing to have more autonomy in carrying out their assignments, or expressing a desire for greater teamwork and collaboration. These complaints are about broader organizational concerns.
In an organization, the meta-grumbles are signals of deeper issues in the organization.
What does grumbling in organizations have to do with your career success?
Well, grumbling occurs on an individual level all the time. However, grumbles may peak at a specific time (when performance reviews are done). This may be an indication that your people are surprised at what was told them during the appraisal. Let me give you an example. I have a client who disregarded the fact that everyone in his organization complained about their review, even the people who got good reviews.
My client had come face to face with a meta-grumble.
His employees were not complaining that they got a review – but the meta grumble was that the review was a complete surprise to them. “You mean I did a poor job at that?” My client should have used the meta grumbling to remedy the fact that he did not talk with his employees except ONCE a year at the performance review period.
The meta grumble was telling him “Talk to us MORE OFTEN about how we are doing.” My client had to learn to give immediate positive and negative feedback on performance so that small grumbles didn’t turn into meta grumbles.
Only by talking about performance consistently and constantly could my client succeed in his position.
Listen carefully to meta grumbles in your department during your career. Consistent complaints from employees are always a signal that your career success may be in jeopardy.