Is your business doing too much typing and not enough talking?
Throughout my career I have been lucky enough to work with some very talented business leaders. Whilst there is no denying that their technical and strategic skills have been key to their rise up within an organisation, it’s their excellent communication skills which have ultimately allowed them to deliver and reach the pinnacle of their careers.
Before I begin I want to make clear to you that I am a strong advocate of technology and all the advantages it brings to business. But, I am concerned that in today’s always-on, fast paced, technologically-driven world, traditional communications skills, from face to face interaction to the art of listening, are not appreciated as much as they should be and are even being ignored within some organisations. And, worryingly, it seems that this trend is only set to continue in today’s digital world in which our children know how to use our iPads better than we do.
You only have to walk into most offices and realise that you could hear a pin drop to see where I am coming from. Most of us would rather send an email to a colleague sat two desks down than take the time to talk to them in person. We live in a world where there are more digital conversations taking place online than there are in the real world, according to UK regulator Ofcom. It’s not that the art of conversation is dead – it’s still the most revered and reliable way of conducting business – it’s just that we’ve become suckers for convenience and short-cuts. Our attention spans haven’t dropped; our options have just got greater.
The wheels of business are oiled by effective communication and leaders need to ensure they lead from the front and promote an office culture that thrives on open and effective communication. Here are three ways that you can foster a more collaborative, and ultimately successful, workplace environment:
1. Leave your office and walk the floor
More than 205 billion emails are sent globally every day and it’s all too easy for everyone to hide behind their screens, rather than making an effort to engage with a colleague, supplier or client face to face or even over the phone. I strongly believe that management should lead from the front by leaving the confines of their offices and walking the floor to discuss issues with their staff face-to-face or dropping into the office canteen and joining a team for lunch, for example.
Employees need to see first-hand that face-to-face dialogue is valued and be encouraged to tackle opportunities and issues head-on and in person, instead of resorting to back-and-forth emails that consume time and drain productivity.
No business became successful because their teams were tied to their desks all day. But even with the best intentions it can sometimes be hard to get people to step away from their desks and their to-do lists. Business leaders should actively be encouraging their teams to get away from their desks and spend time with their colleagues to discuss the latest project or strategy. Walking into my open plan office today, I was struck by the noise around a white board and was delighted to see it was an impromptu brainstorming session with a manager and her team. If these aren’t happening, I find that putting workshops in the diary or organising brainstorms in different locations fosters much better ongoing communication between colleagues.
Our CEO Alistair Cox stated in a recent LinkedIn Influencer blog that, “my most productive sessions are those where a group of people are in the same room grappling with a problem and building on each other’s solutions”. These fluent exchanges are the best methods of separating the strong suggestions from the weak; where colleagues can quickly identify flaws or reinforce strengths without getting caught up in periodical, long-winded email threads.
2. Instil confidence and encourage idea sharing
In previous roles I’ve seen the negative impact of colleagues who shut down ideas before they have had a chance to be explained, intent on pursuing their own agenda no matter what is discussed.
It’s important to build a culture in which all employees, no matter their experience or job description, feel confident to put forward ideas, whether that be in a face-to-face meeting or over a conference call. Business leaders must lead from the front and ensure that they run their own meetings in this way and have an ‘open door’ culture in which people feel comfortable to communicate and share.
You are integral in establishing a confident atmosphere that encourages idea exchange, and I am a big believer in the ‘Yes, and’ approach, which involves either building on a team member’s idea or perhaps suggesting an alternative solution, rather than simply shutting down proposals. One way you can further benefit from these open, reciprocal meetings is by leaving your smart-phones outside the meeting room – this way everyone will be all ears, all of the time.
Talking of all ears, one of the biggest mistakes you can make in management is thinking that effective communication means you need to be saying something. Yes, as a leader it’s vital to clearly set out an inspiring vision which resonates with your employees and binds them into your organisation. But in my view it’s just as important to ensure that you take time to listen to your employees and encourage those within your organisation to do the same – this is a point that my colleague Marc Burrage really reinforces in his blog, ‘Lost in translation: 10 tips towards becoming a better communicator’.
It might sound like a subtle difference but rather than hearing the reply, you should focus on actively listening to understand who you are speaking to. It will make a huge difference to the way you communicate with them; being known as a great listener within your organisation is one of the greatest attributes you can earn. Within my own business, I have found that setting up and running town hall meetings in which I set out the latest strategy and vision but also provide teams with the opportunity to have their say and input is very effective. By building up your reputation as a good listener you’ll become a first port of call for all concerns or queries – an important facet of your role as leader.
Bringing it all together
I strongly believe there is huge value in face-to-face communication; encouraging effective communication within your company will have a tangible effect on your employees’ performances and encourage them to tackle matters directly and more productively.
As a leader, it’s your responsibility to create and nurture this open, confident and productive environment. Show vocal appreciation for hard work instead of sending a quick ‘well done’ email. When proposing your own strategy, encourage your team to volunteer suggestions. Above all, foster an atmosphere where ideas flow freely – between staff and from you. These skills can’t be learnt at a business school or by doing an online course, but getting them right will make a huge difference to your organisation’s bottom line. Make sure you are leading from the front, and if your office is silent you may want to make some noise.
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