Thursday, March 22

How Do We Overcome a Culture of Distrust? 

I just came back from the awards ceremony for The Philadelphia Business Journal's Best Places to Work Awards. It was a great night. And it turns out, we have a LOT of great companies in the area that are doing all kinds of cool and wonderful things to develop their employees, communicate with them, and make them valued, respected, and committed - along with engendering a healthy sense of balance and fun too.

Then this morning, I came across this great Q&A from Workforce magazine's online newsletter. This company is obviously NOT a great place to work. Certainly, this company is in trouble culture-wise, but even with a healthy culture, these are good habits for every company interested in spreading truth and trust... all the way to the bottom line!

How Do We Overcome a Culture of Distrust and Get Employees to Share Information?

Q: According to an internal survey we conducted, our employees are fearful of sharing information with one another. They cite a variety of reasons. They believe the sharing of info will decrease personal success. They don't have time to share. They fear negative consequences. They do not trust their colleagues.

Hence, our people prefer to work like robots. In fact, there's a big problem of communication. We have no formalized coaching or mentoring programs in place either. How do we reverse the slide and begin the long climb back to open and honest workplace communication?
—Miserable Mistrust, quality assurance coordinator, hospitality, Rose-Hill, Mauritius

A: Communication is a direct reflection of your organization's corporate culture. Employees refuse to share information, or communicate only in limited fashion, because they have been conditioned to do so. At some point, your management team has sent the message, by word or deed, that such behavior is either acceptable or desired. It may also be an indication that there is a "disconnect" between employees and management.

To change the behavior, senior management must first commit to changing the company culture. Such change will most likely be slow and take time to produce measurable results.

The management team must start by making a comprehensive assessment of the company's communications policies and practices. This includes meetings at various levels, how new information or policies get introduced, and in-house media such as newsletters and bulletin boards.

In addition, the team should assess the impact of less direct contributors to communications: things like teamwork, team effectiveness, the performance appraisal process, open-door policies and the availability of staff to employees.

Once issues are identified, your management should be encouraged to take a revolutionary step: take these issues to employees for resolution. Focus groups at various levels of the organization can be formed to answer such questions as: What's wrong with communications at the company level? The department level? Team level? Upward/downward? Peer to peer?

Use a systemic approach to develop solutions to the problems you identify.

Employees in all probability will recognize critical issues and suggest workable solutions to problems. In the end, it is the leadership and behavior of your management team, including a commitment to effective communication, that gets things done. Here are some suggestions:

Address the performance appraisal process. Employees should be evaluated on how effectively they communicate. This should include their effectiveness in working on teams and their contribution to teamwork.

Create a company report card. It should show the company's good, bad and ugly on a monthly or quarterly basis. Areas graded can include finance, productivity, leadership and communication effectiveness.

Develop a mentoring process. Use employees that possess the desirable qualities you have identified to mentor and reinforce company values to new employees. This serves to combat existing deep-rooted cultural issues that can lead to poor communication. Mentors should be charged with the responsibility of creating trust through effective communication.

Develop a "high potentials" group. This would be a group of your best and brightest employees with the potential for leadership. Provide them with accelerated training on subjects such as leadership, company values, business ethics and, of course, effective communication in various forms—the cornerstone of leadership and trust.

Make shared communications important. Clearly spell out the company's vision of quality communication. Evaluate employees' communication in a meaningful way. Weight the value of good communication as heavily as competencies such as productivity and safety.

Reward suggestions. Encourage employees to make suggestions for improvement at all levels of the organization. Recognize employees whose suggestions get implemented. The rewards do not have to be monetary or large to have a positive impact on your workforce.

SOURCE: Lonnie Harvey Jr., SPHR, president, the Jesclon Group, Rock Hill, South Carolina, September 27, 2006.

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