RightTrack is rolling out ‘Speaking Out’ training to almost 2,000 employees at all levels across one of the UKs largest housing associations, Midland Heart. (Check out the case study here). Al Brunker, a highly valued member of the RightTrack Learning & Development Specialists team, reflects on how we can nurture, and reap the benefits of, a speak-up, speak-out culture.
Most of us want to work in a culture of equality and fairness, where it’s okay to speak our minds. We don’t want to feel there are people we can’t be open with for fear of the consequences. And we’d feel saddened to hear there are people who feel they can’t be open with us – because we’re unapproachable, scary or simply out of touch with the needs of staff.
But in reality, there are few businesses that don’t suffer to some extent from a self-placed hand over the mouth. Barriers to communication spring up throughout organisations: within teams, among board members, between managers and their reports, and, perhaps most commonly, between the leaders of a business and the people they’re meant to be leading.
Once established, a culture of avoiding the difficult conversations can rapidly become the norm. And not challenging inappropriate behaviour, failing to address poor performance, and moaning resentfully and ineffectively about senior management behind their backs soon become hallmarks of the company.
Here are four ways to create a speak-up, speak-out culture within your organisation:
Make sure the invitation comes from the top.
Creating a culture in which everyone from the CEO to the babiest-faced intern feels they have an equal right to speak to each other about things that matter starts with endorsement from the top.
And not just because the leaders feel pressure from below to open up. Real leaders recognise the value of an open channel of communication from bottom to top. They want to be fully connected with the people who turn the wheels of the business they lead.
So it needs to be their idea. They need to publish, promote and celebrate a clear policy of open and transparent communication.
Keep all doors open – and with them hearts and minds.
Make the policy real. ‘We have an open-door policy here!’ was the platitude my first boss greeted me with at our introductory meeting. I spent most of my time after that walking past his (closed) office door, too frightened to knock because I was terrified he’d think my ideas were stupid.
Of course, it’s not so much about keeping doors open (particularly in open-plan spaces), but mindsets. Too many leaders fall into the trap of thinking they’re above ‘mundane’ conversations about an employee’s fears about the restructure, or concerns about the inappropriate behaviour of a colleague. But by changing their mindset and building communication bridges between them and their staff, leaders can rapidly improve their character and credibility.
And they change the mindset of the people they lead – who learn to embrace the new openness, develop greater connection with their leaders and grow a deeper sense of belonging to the business they work for.
Avoid molehills becoming mountains
The problem with sitting on a problem is that it festers.
By introducing a policy of openness and transparency to your organisation, you’re encouraging your people to open up about the little things before they become big, and eventually grow out of control.
We don’t want grievances and discrimination claims. We want a culture where people feel free to air their concerns early on in a respectful and dignified way.
Coach your way to a culture of constructive feedback
Enable your staff to give constructive feedback through coaching – we’re all human and don’t respond well to finger-pointing and blame. Consider introducing your people to your speak-out policy with some simple pointers on how to give constructive feedback. You don’t want your new culture of openness to create hostility and resentment because of the lack of sensitivity with which people are now communicating ‘hot’ issues.