Basic Business Cents: Dialogue is a key component in workplace
Shortly after one of the "big-box retailers" opened near my home, I asked one of the cashiers how she liked working for the company.
She responded, "I love it!"
I asked her why and she told me that management respects her. I then asked if her previous management, at a large competitor, did not respect her. She said, "They did not even know I existed."
What a shame. How could this employee, or others like her, put their heart and soul into helping to make her company successful if they do not feel respected and important. It cost so little to respect people and the returns are so high.
I suspect one of the ways employees feel respected is if management shares information, asks for feedback and listens to what the employees are saying. Many employees' suggestions are very useful; every employee has a brain and they are closest to the work. For other ideas that cannot be utilized, it is important to provide to the individual feedback reasons why their idea cannot be implemented. The worst thing that you can do is to ignore the input.
It is key to make time to have honest dialogue with employees. This can take the form of one-on-one discussions by visiting the workplace on a regular basis or it can be with group meetings.
In either case, we need to remember that communication has two equal parts - sending and receiving. This means spending at least half of the time listening.
In order to send the right information, you have to trust the employees. Trust them in order to share where the aim and direction of the organization is, the vision of what the desired state of the company will become in a few years and the strategy involved in getting there.
Just sharing the financial results of the last month or quarter is not likely to excite the employees; it is like looking at where you are going by looking in the rear-view mirror. Instead share progress being made on achieving the strategies and closing the gap from current state to desired state.
Listening and receiving input is a learned skill. You should practice active listening, ask open-ended questions, which will draw out ideas from the employees.
Give them time to think through your questions and formulate responses. Absorb their answers, think about why they came to their conclusions and engage in two-way dialogue. As we said, provide feedback and show respect for their thoughts. Above all, don't kill the messenger. Word will quickly spread throughout the organization if it is dangerous to speak openly to management.
Top management does not have a lock on brainpower in the organization. Work today is becoming so complex that we need to tap into each and every brain in the organization. It is rewarding to see what we can learn with good, honest dialogue.
Louis Schultz, managing director of Process Management LLC, has assisted organizations worldwide with performance improvement. He currently works with area business owners as a SCORE counselor. E-mail him with questions or comments at lou@process