Joining the conversation

The use of social media has wrought many changes for today’s employees; unfortunately, many of these changes aren’t always readily apparent in the workplace. As workers become more connected and empowered outside the office, they are much less likely to be satisfied with command-and-control management and one-way, top-down communication inside.

How do savvy executives react to this changing environment? Recognizing that you no longer hold all the cards is a good place to start. Teamwork and collaboration are becoming the norm for doing business. Employees are collaborators and contributors – a matrixed network of teams, projects, departments and initiatives. These groups have to be able to communicate with each other without waiting for word from leadership.

Executives who transition their approach from “mass communication” to “mass collaboration” are much more likely to communicate successfully.

As this way of doing business takes hold, management teams can no longer afford to think of employees as an “audience.” Executives who transition their approach from “mass communication” to “mass collaboration” are much more likely to communicate successfully.

Think about how collaboration occurs: It’s through conversation. Social media platforms have been wildly successful in part because they encourage two-way communication. They help people build influence despite having little or no authority. Senior executives can view this shift in one of two ways: They can see it as a power drain, or they can embrace it as the opportunity that it is.

Engaging in two-way communication, whether face to face or via technology, provides a forum for leaders to directly address issues, which in turn builds transparency. Employees gain insight into how decisions are made – the thinking that led to the choice. Discussion about that process creates rapport, builds relationships and supports teamwork.

How can executives join the conversation? Here are three good ways to start:

1. Provide forums.
Not the 45-minute, death-by-PowerPoint presentation with the five-minute Q&A session at the end – a forum is a small group of people from different levels in the organizational hierarchy coming together face to face. The more intimate the setting, the more likely it is that employees will speak up. A forum is also an intranet blog where employees provide comments to which an executive responds personally and in a timely manner. Or, it can be a teleconference during which the senior leader asks for opinions and listens to the answers. (Remember, half of a conversation is listening to what the other person is saying.)

2. Tell your story.
Think of the best conversations you’ve had. Often, they begin with one person telling a story. It resonates with the listener, who in turn shares another story. Executives who illustrate the points they wish to make with personal stories are the executives most likely to gain employees’ trust – a giant step toward effective leadership. Tell your story, and – more importantly – encourage others to tell theirs.

3. Make a connection to organizational strategy.
Employees often report feeling disconnected from company strategy: They know their own role, but they don’t see a connection between what they do and what the organization hopes to achieve. In asking questions about the work being done, leaders can seize the opportunity to make those connections – to help employees see how their work contributes.

The days of employees anxiously awaiting news from the top may be over, but in its place, effective leaders can improve productivity and increase employee engagement and understanding simply by joining the conversation.

© 2019 Betty Henry Communications