A culture of open and authentic communication improves the bottom-line of any business.
Employee engagement increases, staff churn reduces and productivity rises.
The person at the desk next to yours is more likely to have a smile on their face, say ‘hi’ to you in the morning and be there to support you throughout the working day.
Achieving a five-star culture is no overnight task but HR expert and Kelling Wood associate, Stephanie Lunn, says there are seven important building blocks that can help to speed up the process.
- Start at the top
The very top.
Says Lunn: ‘The way in which the CEO or MD communicates sets the tone for the rest of the business. Their leadership style legitimises behaviour for others and is the most potent factor in establishing communication norms in the business.
‘In even the largest business, the way in the which the leader treats their peers and closest colleagues will permeate through the organisation.’
- Follow my leader
‘A vibrant and positive culture needs consistency, and so senior managers need to follow the style and spirit of the leader as closely as possible,’ says Lunn.
‘This isn’t about cloning, it’s about sharing values and ways of dealing with people. The establishment and presentation of a united front means that any nasty surprises come from the outside world and not from the home team.’
- Be feedback friendly
Ever had 360 feedback in a review that harks back to events way back when?
It’s the sign of a culture that’s over-reliant on process needs to focus on real-time interaction.
‘Feedback needs to given as close to the event as possible,’ says Lunn. ‘It should always be honest and never deliberately hurtful. The conversation should be about how to improve things by working together, next time around.
‘To be truly effective, the feedback has to come within a context in which nobody is frightened, it’s an adult-to-adult conversation and both parties understand the goals to which they are working.’
- Praise the Lord. Or at least your colleagues
‘She’s had enough recognition already’ and ‘he’s only doing his job’ are two common management attitudes that can seriously undermine the workplace culture.
‘Letting people know they are doing a good job, frequently and with reference to specific things they are doing well is both a simple step to take and a fundamental part of an effective communication strategy,’ says Lunn.
She refers in particular to The Carrot Principle (Gostick & Elton, 2007) which concludes, after researching 200,000 workers over a ten year period, that purpose based recognition is the most effective management tool for reducing staff turnover and improving results. Indeed, the authors are clear that the absence of such recognition greatly undermines the impact of incentives such as monetary bonuses and staff parties and celebrations.
That the pace of change in the workplace is continually accelerating causes many businesses to skip a vital stage in the communication process.
‘Too often the emphasis is on what’s going to change and who it’s going to effect. Why the change is happening, in terms of the circumstances that caused it and the desired outcomes, are an essential part of any communication strategy.
‘If they are to embrace a new direction of travel, people need to understand ‘why’ and the ‘why’ offered by the leadership has to tally with their colleague’s everyday working-life experiences,’ says Lunn.
- Have a policy on policies
‘Your policy should be to have a comprehensive and up-to-date set of policies on all the key HR issues, from maternity rights to holidays and health and safety,’ says Lunn.
‘Equally importantly, your HR policies should be written in a language that reflects your business and the values you wish to uphold. Many employers rightly give new joiners a staff handbook on day one, so it’s important that this becomes a positive part of the joining experience rather than something that will convey a sense of an organisation that primarily wants to cover its back.’
- Provide somewhere to go
Trends towards open-plan offices, virtual working and hot-desking can sometimes enhance authentic communication in the workplace, but businesses should not overlook the need for people to gather in small groups so that they can hold private and confidential conversations.
‘If it’s easy to find a space for a quiet conversation with an approachable and supportive manager, very many problems can be nipped in the bud and attention can return to the job in hand,’ says Lunn.