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What Are Your Employees Thinking? A Ridiculously Simple Way to Find Out

Your employees are full of thoughts. Find out what they’re thinking by answering their anonymous questions at your all-hands meeting.

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BY Larry Kim - 01 Mar 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Great managers sometimes lose their best employees. Usually it's inevitable.

The reason people leave isn't always black and white.

Sometimes employees leave because they've simply gone as far as they can within your company. Sometimes they want better pay. Or sometimes they just want to try something new.

But sometimes they leave for other reasons.

Perhaps they have concerns or frustrations about the business, a product, their team, or your customers--and these concerns impact your team's work. And it seems like management isn't paying attention to them.

How can you fix that?

Maybe you need to find yourself an orange box.

What's so special about this orange box? Nothing yet. It's just a cardboard box covered in orange crepe paper. And there's a hole on top.

But here's the magic of this box: it can help you find out what your employees are thinking.

Michael Dearing, founder of Harrison Metal (an early-stage investment firm), said while he was at eBay, he figured out that the best way to quickly figure out what was going on inside the minds of his teammates was to establish an anonymous question-and-answer process.

Every week, people stuffed the orange box full of 100 percent anonymous questions. Those concerns and frustrations went straight to leadership, unfiltered.

Dearing would then read and answer those questions verbatim during their weekly all-hands meeting in front of everyone. (Sometimes this would be done via email.)

"The orange box helped me see their thoughts and speak to them faster than any other mechanism," according to a brilliant video, Questions from the Orange Box, posted by Harrison Metal. "Anonymous Q&A helps build a workplace where leaders mean it when they ask for questions. And where leaders speak to colleagues honestly and publicly."

Although, theoretically, anyone can ask question during an all-hands meeting, many choose not to. It can be intimidating to ask leadership tough questions in a clear and compelling way.

The result: a small minority of people who are willing to speak publicly end up asking bland questions.

The orange box fixes that.

It is designed to ensure as many people who want take part can. Plus, it prevents your all-hands meeting from becoming scripted theater.

"The orange box process was honest," Dearing says. "Telling the truth requires disclosing some facts that make you uncomfortable. But your colleagues are entitled to more information than your competitors or the public."

Obviously Dearing didn't invent anonymous Q&A. Many companies use some variant of this. And it works.

The questions keep management honest. And that honesty keeps employees engaged in the work.

Who knows, maybe employees will stick around a little longer if you implement anonymous Q&A at your company!

Here's the full video from Harrison Metal.