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Let’s Talk! Conversations can ease the stress of change

Far from being cheap, talk may turn out to be one of the most valuable assets your company owns.

So you want to reshape the organizational culture. Your company and HR team have spent months and devoted costly resources towards working on redesigning the organization to improve the business.

Your communications team is all revved up and ready to go deliver the new key messages in company newsletters, intranets, town hall meetings, on posters and bulletin boards throughout the company. Standard practice is an important part of any successful internal communications’ plan. But wait a minute; can more be done?

Hey, here’s a novel idea: why not start a conversation?

Research in workplace culture shows that face-to-face and peer-to-peer communications are critical in changing behavior at work. So, if communication is one person trying to share ideas and meaning with others, then “talk” is a powerful tool to help facilitate change. Several years ago, the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), a global professional organization dedicated to the education and enhancement of the careers of communication professionals, published several articles related to research on the connection between leadership and communication and peer-to-peer conversations, and their impact on learning in the work place. A key finding in the IABC’s 1998 study on effective supervisor-employee communications underscored how learning in organizations can be nurtured through effective communications between leaders and their employees. And business communicators who tap into the ˜power of talk’ in their companies can increase the organization’s ability to learn faster than its competitors and gain the competitive edge.

Following on that,  study results from research on organizational communications at a Canadian financial cooperative was profiled in IABC’s publication, Communication World. The company had a staff of 250 and consolidated assets of over Cdn$3 billion. The study was undertaken to help the organization understand how communications between leaders and employees could help reshape culture and support organizational learning. At the time, the organization was coping with change on many fronts including globalization, new technologies, changing demographics, and increasingly sophisticated customer needs.

Study sheds light on how leaders and employees experience their conversations and what makes a conversation from which two people can learn, including:

  • The role conversations play in organizational learning;
  • Characteristics of effective and ineffective workplace conversations; and
  • Best practices for enhancing organizational learning between leaders and employees.

For example, a conversation with a leader or supervisor and an employee was perceived to be effective if the participant learned something that was helpful in his or her work. The partnerships, while taking time to develop, then helped build trust, idea sharing and meaning, making employees more open to being guided, supported and constructively challenged and by extension more productive.

Conversely, a conversation with an employee or leader where the participant was not able to learn something that helped with his or her work, or was perceived as playing politics, intervening for a non-work purpose or pursuing a hidden agenda, was remembered as ineffective and likely would not help employees improve their work performance.

A final word.

Finally, I’d like to pass along just one more example of why employee dialogue and communication should be a key communications priority by company leaders and is critical to a company’s long-term success.
In introducing a formalized employee recognition program at one mid-sized company, peer opinion leaders from all levels of the company were brought in to learn about the new program and to provide feedback.
When the program was launched, this review team, or “ambassadors” as they came to be called, had been involved in the program’s development and had the inside story. They were able to discuss the new program with their peers and answer questions. In conversations, they carried key messages about the new program to their colleagues, thereby assisting the company to gain buy-in from its employees and save valuable work time for more productive endeavors.

How do you begin successful conversations in your workplace? Some simple conversation starter suggestions include:

  • Asking questions in a constructive rather than an accusatory way;
  • Building partnerships between leaders and employees to explore workplace issues and problems as equal, open, and active participants;
  • Sharing a case study to help start a conversation or establishing a clear and common purpose for the conversation so that both participants know the purpose of the conversation, eliminating confusion and mixed messages.
    • So, if organizational change is on the horizon, why not incorporate the practice of talking and entering into conversations. Far from being cheap, talk may turn out to be one of the most valuable assets your company owns.

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