skip to main content
Giving Your Employees a Voice: Inviting Their Opinions

Giving Your Employees a Voice: Inviting Their Opinions

Webcast Details

  • Gallup Called to Coach Webcast Series
  • Season 6, Episode 36
  • Mike McDonald explains how employees' engagement increases when they feel their opinions are heard in this Q12 for Coaches podcast on item Q07.

On this special edition of Called to Coach, we will spend time investigating the experiential, emotional and empirical aspects of each element of Gallup's Q12 engagement instrument and learning how it increases the power of our coaching as a primary driver of success. This series will be hosted by Dr. Mike McDonald, Senior Workplace Consultant at Gallup, who started at Gallup in 1990 as a manager/team leader and has had a variety of roles but has always led a team. One of his primary concerns for managers is one that he's experienced himself: How many well-intentioned team leaders are there who are working really hard but don't have any coaching or context about engagement and how do they lead to engagement through their strengths?

In this session, Mike talks about Q07 -- "At work, my opinions seem to count." Below is a summary of the conversation. Full audio and video are posted above.

Host Jim Collison: Mike McDonald is our host today. Mike, welcome to Called to Coach.

Guest host Mike McDonald: Jim, it's kind of an adrenaline rush and ride.

JC: This next question, Q07, and I say this about all of them, it's really important. When we think about employees and their opinions, this is really hard and at the same time really easy. One of the major parts of my job is to help people's opinions count. What is the full question and what does it mean?

MM: Jim, should we have a moment -- we're celebrating a record. The U.S. is experiencing a tie for its all-time high of employee engagement. Drum roll … it's 34%. Ties our record high.

JC: Mike, it's just one (percentage point) -- from 33% to 34%. What does that really represent?

MM: We broke out our calculators and Googled some things, and found out there are 134 million workers in the U.S., so 1.3 million more people woke up this morning and were excited and looking forward to the work they were going to do and the people they were going to do it with.

So how do we make the 1.3 million tangible? Dallas has about 1.3 million people. Imagine the city of Dallas waking up and loving what they do and the people they're doing it with. It takes hundreds of millions of touchpoints to move the needle on that. So Jim and I are excited that we think we are trending, and maybe can take this country and planet toward a tipping point of engagement.

JC: It's a good moment. All of the most recent numbers are available on When 1% = 1.3 million -- think about a country like India or China, in which 1% is a lot more than 1.3 million. So we've got work to do here in the U.S. and around the world.

Mike let's talk about some resources.

MM: As we move the planet closer toward engagement, we have a lot of powerful resources at our disposal. We've been working with all of them throughout our discussions.

First, we've been referencing our First, Break All the Rules book (the most recent edition, which contains a strengths code & a Q12 code for up to 10 participants) -- a really agile resource when you're working with leaders.

We've also been leveraging 12: The Elements of Great Managing, which has a lot of qualitative insights and stories. We've also been reaching deeply into our State of the American Workplace, our Millennials report and our Re-Engineering Performance Management report we have the empirical (the data), the emotional (the description, the stories around that data) and the experiential (first-person references).

We are unpacking Q07 today, "At work, my opinions seem to count."

JC: Talking now to our coaches, your job is to get that book and give it to a manager, and have them take the strengths assessment in the book (to get their Top 5), and then there is a code for 10 (Q12 assessments) so they can have their team take it, and then you can coach them through that. Let's be super-prescriptive on that. We know you can create change in the workplace when we reach the managers.

I also updated the Resources page this week for our reports. I couldn't make it any easier to find them. Go to, click the Resources tab (at the top), scroll down toward the bottom, and you'll see the Reports link -- all of the reports are in one place (click "Gallup Reports" and then "All Gallup Reports"). Mike, thanks for letting my opinion matter.

MM: Jim, I love that. This is part of Gallup's mission and when you think about the need for entrepreneurs (and the birth rate vs. the death rate of organizations), if you will add the content of First, Break All the Rules to the content of Born to Build in your coaching, if you can intervene and equip those new entrepreneurs, you can transform and accelerate create certainty about the success of those new businesses.

JC: There are two words in this: "opinions" and "seem."

MM: The request underneath this item is really, "Hear me." Do I even have a voice, and does my voice have any value? Are we as team leaders extending the invitation to team members to feel their voice does matter, but then what's our resolution, orientation and follow-through around that opinion? We have to "close that opinion loop."

This doesn't mean that we have to do what someone said they want or need in order to feel their opinion counts. We can't meet that need or want 100% of the time. It may be a slower yes, or never a yes, or a slow no. And that's where our coaching and the art and science of leadership come into play. People need to feel they are invited into the conversation and that there was resolution in terms of what I thought I wanted or needed and what ultimately happened.

JC: Mike, this is a question that is proactive rather than reactive. It's not something you want to "lead from behind" on. Can you talk about why we want to get out in front of this?

MM: I think the all 12 items, but this one specifically, is not well dealt with from behind. There's a lot of pent-up frustration that erupts into negativity when you deal with this from behind. We all want to be heard, but if there's a delay or there's never been an invitation (to be heard in a conversation), people disconnect. If I don't feel I matter on that front, then I probably don't matter on any front. And pretty soon, I "quit" but I still show up for work and get a paycheck.

Team leaders can get pretty defensive about this. They have to realize that in a culture of idea generation, not every idea is going to be great. Some ideas will need revision, coaching, guidance. What is the spirit of what the person is asking for, and how do we move it forward to resolution (of understanding or of application, where it really moves the needle)?

JC: Mike, the active component in this question is listening. Last I checked, there is no "listening" theme in our CliftonStrengths. As we (as managers, team leads) think of using our Top 5, what are some strategies to be great listeners?

MM: I love that question. I think team leaders typically underestimate their ability to listen. There are forces that have eroded our ability to listen, but I don't think we claim our strengths actively enough when we think about ourselves as listeners. As coaches, we have an advantage because we know the value of listening.

I like to have leaders claim and aim one or two of their strengths that they can leverage to be a great listener. I have Focus as #5 and Arranger as #7. So I can leverage my Focus to lock in on what someone is saying, and can bore a hole into the center of what they're feeling, and draw it out to apply it. What strength can't be used in active listening?

But many well-intended team leaders haven't developed this habit, and we can get them a foothold or handhold around one or two of their strengths as a great listening strength, I think we can start to train them to be that coach in those conversations. And the day, the pace of the workplace is not slowing down. So when we get that strength, we can help reposition that manager's priorities so they can listen and see the value proposition on the other side of the conversation.

Many managers can make assumptions that they know what an employee is going to say (so they don't ask), or they cut the person off mid-sentence, and in this way they disrupt the value in terms of whether that employee matters. And so it doesn't feel good for the employee and isn't creating a great culture of opinions and idea generation.

JC: I know this will sound counterintuitive, but I actually use Communication to listen, and it comes in the form of asking questions. But I have to keep it in check and keep asking questions so that I can get great information out of people. There's some Arranger in that too.

Steve has asked a question, "Is the need higher in times of great change? And should the process of creating open dialogue during great change be different?"

MM: Steve, I love that question. When we know change is imminent, we can use engagement as a lens, as a dashboard to navigate that change effectively. And not to just survive it but to succeed through it. I connect Opinions count back into Expectations and into Materials and equipment, items Q01 and Q02, and make sure I ask questions about those things -- what are we going to need, and clarity of expectations. I love those three for change management, because we know that the most successful strategy could be what creates the most buy-in and emotional commitment.

JC: David in the chat room also says, "Agree." He says his Context needs to ask questions to understand personal history. I think that's a great way of saying, "How can I ask the right questions to get the information I need?"

Mike in the chat room says this, "I remember reading in First, Break All the Rules that great managers spend most of their time focusing on the first six elements." Talk about the hierarchy as we transition into Q07.

MM: Mike, to your point, on the other side of the discovery of the 12 elements, we found out that there was an experiential order to those 12. We don't necessarily need all of them at 100% on the same day. So the first six are foundational. It works really well with clients to talk about the metaphor of altitude sickness. If we try to ascend too quickly from Know what's expected to Opportunities to learn and grow, it's the same as trying to scale Everest too quickly (and we would die of altitude sickness). So we think of establish a "base camp" and working your way up.

The first two items represent foundational needs, essentially, "What do I get?" And when that answer is provided, I ask a different question, "What do I give?" What is my performance back to the team? That represents the next four items. Then, the next four items represent "Do I belong?" This is where I get excited, and it represents the relationship aspect, the emotion. Those items include opinions count, best friend at work, mission and purpose. And then the fourth tier has to do with identity, where we're blended with the organization and team we work with, and that question is, "How do we grow?" And so the person thinks in terms of the plural pronoun -- I can't separate myself from the success or struggle of the organization.

JC: A lot of those areas where the relationship-building items come in (Q07, Q08, Q09, Q10) have a lot of play in relationship themes. That's kind of where you want to start engaging people. This year, because of this series, I changed the way my interns can meet with me. Instead of me scheduling them, I said to them, "You schedule as many of them (time with me) as you want." And that's kind of changed me.

MM: Jim, I think you may be touching on the core of this item. Think about the psychological ownership of that invitation and it probably threw that person off. When we think of engagement as discretionary and voluntary effort, I contend that when our voice is connected to a value and an opportunity to move something forward, we involve ourselves completely. You talk about buy-in and ownership around engagement.

I get excited about that, Jim, because one of the things it plays itself out into is the notion of inclusivity and how we all matter. Just think what is represented when everyone's ideas are valued. One of the things in our own Inclusivity Index is the item, "My organization treasures diverse opinions and ideas." Think about a culture where that's a "5" -- where there's fearlessness in the ability to share ideas.

And in organizations where ingenuity is expected, nearly half of employees who believe their opinions count at work also feel their current job brings out their most creative ideas. For those who are neutral or negative on item Q07, only 8% feel their creativity is encouraged. So look at that gap. If we don't get this item right, we're going to cut so many opportunities off -- there are so many inventions out there that are waiting to spring forward if we can create this culture of opinions count.

JC: I was in a meeting yesterday and had shut down an idea about six months ago. And I realized yesterday what they were really asking, and my eyes were opened, and I realized I was wrong. And I apologized because I wasn't listening, and took ownership in terms of moving the idea forward. I think sometimes as leaders, we're hesitant to admit we're wrong so we sit on bad decisions.

As we think about our U.S. numbers and strong agreement with Q07 (three in 10 strongly agree), there are opportunities here. When we get this right, it changes things in the workplace.

MM: Jim, I think your testimony is representative of every well-intended team leader. But what you pointed out is the answer. It's important on this item to see past the view that someone presents to what is behind that view.

When we do this right, it creates a great culture. We talked about this earlier with our Re-Engineering Performance Management paper. The first type of conversation we touched on is the "quick connect" -- a weekly or daily check-in, and if we do this right (5-10 minutes) and create a cycle of asking for opinions, we know the correlation to engagement is strongest of the five conversation types.

So much of engagement is about reducing culture (broad, nebulous) to two or three pressure points that talented managers can use their strengths to move the culture forward. So quick-connect, the right questions, and creating the space where we've locked onto one of our strengths can create a nice three-pronged way to drive the "opinions count" item.

JC: Sometimes opinions come out in the weirdest ways that you don't expect; you have to be ready for them. And I think great managers are always listening for opinions. We have a famous example here at Gallup of a person was always asking, "Can't we just wear jeans every day?" And our current dress policy is "dress for the day" (it was business casual) -- but that opinion was a precursor to some ideas we're now embracing.

So some of the ideas that are going against the grain are the ones managers really need to listen to. Doesn't mean they have to act on them right away. But there may be an idea that is a front-runner. The American workplace has changed a lot over the past 30 years, and a lot of the things I heard people asking for are things that are now happening -- and we could have done them a lot sooner if we had just listened. Those conversations can be good ones that can often lead to change.

MM: The positioning of what a "5" looks like on Opinions count. I like to split it into two perspectives. First, what does a "5" look like today? What is the opportunity we have within our span of influence and control to make it a "5"? But there's also the aspirational "5," which gives us hope and confidence. We've identified where we want to be, and are predicting the future by creating the future. And we can reverse engineer this back to our span of control today. And the positioning of the actual "5" and aspirational "5" keeps us resolved and motivated, but also gives us evidence of progress.

Many times, we do an effective job on Opinions count and have made good changes along the way, but we may not capture the evidence of this change. So it's great (for a team) to reflect on the past 6 months, and to ask, "Where did we have our best Opinions count moments -- where were we heard, and where did we move something forward?" and to see how much power we've been able to employ.

JC: One of the things I've enjoyed at my tenure here at Gallup is the data behind these questions. Just because it's the latest fad or trend, and people have an opinion about it, it doesn't mean it's the best for employees. Think about free lunches, we know it has well-being consequences. It's not necessarily what's best. The other thing, in State of the American Workplace, we talk a lot about remote workers. We've found that five days at home is harder sometimes than three or four days at home. As a manager, that makes it harder because I have to manage that person differently.

We know that leaving a remote worker alone (from a manager's perspective) doesn't work. For Opinions count, we need to find out what's best for employees. It's not necessarily what people want or are asking for, but what is best. Some people think item Q07 is "I just ask and it will happen."

MM: The vending machine.

JC: And we know that's not best; we know as parents, that's not best for our children. So there still has to be leadership. This is not a "lack of leadership; give everybody what they want" question. It's a listening and opinions counting question, in which everybody gets a say (and there are great ideas that come out of those "squeaky wheels"). Like everything, it's not easy.

MM: Jim, we just got done with my team's most recent engagement results. We took a different angle -- we're connecting areas of improvement and strength to our activated values at Gallup. I'm excited about connecting forward from Opinions count to our organization's Mission and purpose (Q08). Having that framework of our mission and activated values (connected to Opinions count) is a great framework. I think it's going to tap into a deeper engagement for each one of us to know that it's going to tap into a really powerful "why."

JC: Mike, when I've had an opinion, my current manager has let me go down that path. And Maika says, "Is that an out-loud conversation?" My manager was very "out-loud" (telling me the way he thought was best) but allowed me to do something (different). And I got to the end and realized the manager was right. But he gave me the freedom to see if it would work, because sometimes you don't know. But that's the hard part of being a manager, is giving that space to explore, but that doesn't mean you "roll over" (and accede to what they're asking).

It's my favorite thing to say, "I'll let you do this, but how are we going to measure success in this?" It ties you and the employee together in a measure of accountability. That can be powerful. Mike, we have a few minutes left. How would you like to wrap this?

MM: There's five specific ways I'd like to put in front of people in terms of coaching team leaders and having Opinions count, and opportunities for coaches to be involved in our own courses.

The first is the need to individualize. I love asking these two questions to get to the point of Opinions count. The first is, "What things do you want your opinions to count on?" We all have areas that we want our opinions to count on, and so you get to weigh in where you want to. The second question is, "Who do you want your opinions to count with?" Each of us has our own constituency, our own audience that matters more to us than to others.

Prioritization -- managers have to be present and involved but mindful of the opinions of others, and that their team feels their opinions count. Then too, we need to get "upstream," the mindset of initiating and how we transition new ideas in. So individualize, prioritize, initiate, and then the last two are "listen" -- activating the strengths that cause you to be a great listener and then practicing around the quick-connect conversation. And finally, follow-through -- not did the person get what they were asking for, but how did resolution feel?

JC: Mike, we've got some high-powered courses and some other things for folks who want to take this beyond a webcast. How do we do that?

MM: Those five entry points we just talked about come to life in several courses we offer -- particularly our Engagement Champions course. You become a subject-matter expert in the data and the outcomes, and a transformational connection point in taking a culture forward.

Another opportunity is our Leading High-Performance Teams course, which starts out with strengths (the leader's and their team's), and then engagement, and then we wrap with strategy around those four performance conversations.

If you can't be part of either of these two courses, we have a Creating an Engaging Workplace Manager Packet. and our favorite Engagement Discussion Cards and My Discussion Question Cards. So a lot of exciting opportunities to put to work.

Mike McDonald's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Ideation, Input, Learner, Achiever and Focus.

Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed:

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030