Two-way communication – simply good business sense

An article stood out to me recently that appeared across several of my social feeds.

The article was titled  “Why an uninformed workplace is bad for business”.

The cautionary tale revolved around the bad business practices of Steve Jobs wannabe Elizabeth Holmes; so bad in fact that she has landed herself a 20-year stint in the big house.

One of Holmes’s organisational strategies included what the journalist described as deliberate siloing, and next to no communication with employees.

For nearly two decades I worked with toxic workplace cultures, advising the client organisation as to the best way to deal with fallout from the latest incident indicative of said culture. (Think workplace investigations, grievance resolution, disciplinary action, unfair dismissal claims to name a few).

These days I choose to work with organisations that value workplace culture; where deliberate steps are taken to measure culture, retain the good elements, or grow/improve an existing culture.

One of the key ingredients that distinguishes ‘good’ from ‘bad’ culture, is the type and level of internal communication.

In one corner, at one end of a spectrum, are the organisations that we might call “old school”. These businesses are only interested in dollars, and do not view employees as anything other than a means to an end.

Their mindset may be along the lines of “They get paid every week. The shop’s safe. Why do we have to do anything else for them? They should be thankful they have a job!” *

Members of the Executive will sit in offices with closed doors and are unreachable to anyone other than senior managers or their PAs. Decisions are made in secret, results (good and bad) often only become known to employees through the media.

In short, two-way communication does not happen in these businesses. Leaders are not available themselves, nor are they interested in hearing what their people might have to say.

There are businesses like this that still exist in Australia. I know this for a fact, in part because I have consulted to them, and most recently because of research I am conducting on Australian workplace culture via HR practitioners.

Businesses who do not see the ROI in engaging in staff surveys. Or think “Town Hall” refers to one of the new stations being built as part of the Melbourne Metro Tunnel project. Who think a scripted, ultra–slick bi-monthly video will meet employee’s desires to hear from the ELT (It doesn’t. Employees want to see and hear from leaders in the flesh).

At the other end of the spectrum, I am thrilled to be hearing what progressive organisations are doing in terms of workplace culture.

Whilst you will have to wait for the white paper to hear the complete story, for now I can share that there are Aussie organisations who recognise that the future of work, perhaps now more than at any other time in history, lies in valuing our employees as real, authentic people not just robots performing a job.

I’m happy to report that some of the businesses I have interviewed for the white paper, are shining examples of this new paradigm.

One example is the digital start-up of around 200 employees, who recently determined and populated the company values.

This didn’t happen through a collaboration between HR and Marketing. Instead,

  • HR lead spoke 1:1 to the Executive – broadly speaking, what did they think the company values should be?
  • Staff survey was sent out company wide, asking for (non-identifying) personal values, followed by asking individuals what they thought the business values should be
  • The rich data was extensively analysed, and several themes identified
  • The themes were tested in workshops across the business, where deep dives into draft language / behaviours happened
  • A working version of the values were drafted, which were then further tested in more workshops
  • The final version, prepared after all this input from across all levels of the organisation, was presented back to the Executive, sign off was obtained and the values were subsequently rolled out

Listening to your employees makes them feel heard, which in turn makes them feel as if their opinion matters. We feel valued and included when our opinion is sought.

It’s the same with personal relationships.

And if you feel valued in any relationship, you are invested in its success.

It’s actually a very simple equation.

Which begs the question – why aren’t all organisations engaging in conversations with their teams?

The old school style businesses will say they don’t need too. They are still making money, and if ‘it ain’t broke don’t fix it’. They might be frightened to listen to their employees or lack the skill to do it. Or just be plain old pig headed about the need to listen.

Side note: being prepared to listen to your teams, does not mean you have to do everything your employees suggest. However almost as important as listening, is demonstrating that you have considered employee opinions. Followed up by communicating whether you can/cannot act on those opinions (and why/why not).

Perhaps the biggest problem is the lack of direct and obvious correlation between the investment in time and effort required to listen vs a positive impact on the bottom line.

Patrick Lencioni, Organisational Development Rockstar, nails this issue when he says

Lencioni explains further that

 “Something doesn’t have to be a metric to be practical. Measurement is a tricky animal.

“Lots of executives say, ‘Tell me what the ROI of this activity is.’ There’s nothing wrong with responding, ‘Calculating the ROI of this is really difficult. In fact, it might be impossible. Because you can’t isolate any one variable. But the ROI is massive nonetheless.’

“It’s as if my wife said, ‘What’s the ROI of us improving our marriage? Will the kids’ grades be higher? Are we going to have a better financial outcome?’

The reality is, the world is changing. People want to be seen, heard and valued at work.

If you don’t get on board, you and your business will be left behind as you will lose the battle to attract and retain talent.

It’s only a matter of time.

 

Interested in learning how to improve two-way communication with your team members? Contact me for a confidential chat on 0400 019 599 or via alison@workologyco.com.au

*This was a direct quote from a participant at a recent Workshop I facilitated, targeting Senior Managers to provide them with tools to improve employee performance.

About the Author:

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Following four careers spanning 20 years, fostering cultures where people want to work because they can thrive and are valued is what truly drives Alison Drew- Forster. Having studied and practised law, Alison was initially drawn to industrial relations, human resources and organisational development roles. Working as a lawyer honed Alison’s natural ability and love of identifying problems, applying relevant context such applicable laws and factual context, in order to provide practical and cost-effective solutions to clients. These unique insights from the “dark side” made Alison curious on what makes a corporate culture work well? In time, she recognised patterns in toxic workplace cultures, and recognised that healthy and thriving workplaces adopted the opposite approach. This led to the creation of a program designed to help business leaders grow their people and their business -and Workology Co was born. Alison believes the best answers and solutions are found in listening. During her career she has fine-tuned the art of conversation and married this with her naturally high empathy, which helps unearth the true voice of people within an organisation and new approaches that bring out the best in people and their workplace. Alison is thrilled to share her naturally intuitive and human centred approach to creating impactful solutions for business people. Her realistic and infectious optimism resonates with both business leaders and employees as she creates a human centred design approach to creating unprecedented business solutions.

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