The Solution To Your Problems? Talking!

Two woman sitting on swings and talking


“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw

Effective communication is critical to the success of any business, yet when we begin the process of helping leaders to run more effective businesses, more often than not, so many of their issues relate to having poor communication.

When we ask the leaders of the organizations we work with, “Do you communicate well with your employees?” The response we get generally follows the line of “Yes… of course. We hold annual reviews, performance reviews, daily stand-ups, one to ones etc.” And yet the same leaders are most often frustrated that nobody seems to communicate – anything, to anybody.

What this business was missing is that in order to foster more ‘real’, open, honest and transparent conversation, where we can truly get to the root of what is/isn’t working for us in the company – a very different environment and format of communication is needed.

What this business had adopted was a very traditional formal process – with the leaders mostly sitting behind their desks inviting their employees to come and sit in their office, almost hiding behind their computer, going through a very regimented repeated set of questions on a spreadsheet to complete their employees ‘Review’. Even the use of the language ‘Review’ gives the impression and feeling of an uneven exchange between the two parties in the conversation. It certainly doesn’t feel like a balanced and neutral environment, which is more often than not going to put your people on the back foot even before we begin.

With it feeling for the employees like a one-way process, and having doubts and fears about what is going to happen as a result of the feedback that they give to their managers, (especially if we are also tying in a pay review with this meeting – different story altogether!), the company was (inadvertently) incentivizing their teams to give them engineered feedback — the feedback they wanted to hear – and not what they needed to hear to learn and improve as a company. This wasn’t doing much to encourage passion and honesty from the colleague being taken through the ‘review’ process.

Most organizations don’t consider their review process a two-way stream. They certainly look down at how their employees are doing as part of that team, and yet rarely take the time to consider looking back up the other way as to how the employees believe their leaders are doing at leading them.

Our belief is that by introducing what we call Quarterly Conversations, we will create a safe environment for real, open and honest communication (both ways) to increase alignment, bring balance, neutrality, and that allows us to really get to the bottom of our issues and ensure we are connected and on track in how we move forward – together.

We introduce our teams to a pulse where our leaders meet with each of their direct reports, one to one, once every 90 days to ‘have a conversation’ – which generally lasts around 45 to 90 minutes. As simple as that. An informal, slightly structured, human conversation.

We recommend this pulse, as 90 days tends to be the time frame in which alignment between people and teams starts to get off track. It also allows enough time between conversations for change to be implemented and a better workplace to be developed.

Quoting German Mathematician and Philosopher Kurt Gödel: “You cannot be in the system, and at the same time see the system you are in.” So we set these conversations up in a neutral environment, also ensuring we have a balanced status in the conversation (not your turf or mine). In a non-Covid world, these conversations take place in coffee shops, out for walks, over breakfast or lunch (if you are feeling frivolous!). Yet ideally away from work, away from the system, and we begin to have a conversation.

Whilst the conversation should flow naturally, we make sure to cover three most important aspects that keep us aligned and connected:

  1. Their role in the company.
      • Whether they still feel that they GET their role?
        Do they understand all that is involved with delivering success in their seat?
      • Do they still WANT that role? Are they happy with it?
      • Do they have the CAPACITY for performing it well.
        Do they have enough time to complete their tasks?
        Do they have enough tasks?
        What can be improved?
  2. Whether they feel they are clearly exhibiting the core values we hold dear as an organization
      • Do they still share the same values?
  3. Whether they are setting and achieving the right and best quarterly priorities (which we call Rocks)

We are looking to clearly understand (both ways) what is working (celebrating all the good), and what isn’t (find a way to fix, improve, and get better). This not only gives leadership an opportunity to see issues arising they might not be aware of, but also gives employees a safe space to engage in honest and open dialogue when their needs are not being met. Sometimes, just being heard, having a voice, and feeling like their opinions matter and have been respected will make a massive difference to your employees morale.

Of course the first conversation might not flow as you may hope, whilst your employees wonder what the deal is, stay closed and try to decipher the ulterior motive. Have faith – keep going. It’ll likely take a little time to earn the trust of your employees in this environment and create  – but once you have it, the benefits can be invaluable. One way to speed the process up is for employees to start seeing their feedback actioned shortly after each conversation with their leaders.

For businesses we have worked with, the biggest advantage of holding Quarterly Conversations is that it leads to better relationships and deeper communication, which in turn allows your business to improve and grow.

If you’re feeling frustrated with communication in your organization, why not try adopting Quarterly Conversations?

So, what are you waiting for?! Start talking!

Previously published on the Grow or Die blog

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