What modern business can succeed without solid internal communication between company leadership and managers, and between managers and employees?
If the enormous variety of online communication tools is any indication, internal communication is becoming a priority for nearly every organization. Communication tools ranges from the well-known and quite ubiquitous (email, chat apps like Slack, and collaboration apps like Trello), to the relatively new world of employee performance management tools.
This growing technology is rapidly moving from a nice-to-have to indispensable for the world’s most successful companies. For example, General Electric continues to make headlines as they move away from traditional performance management practices. They created their own technology called PD@GE or “performance development at GE”, which incorporates the practice of regularly soliciting feedback from employees.
Many of the single point employee feedback solutions or complete performance management platforms are built around a lightweight weekly check-in that allows managers to quickly find out what is happening in the world of every employee, along with features that allow them to pass up that information to company leaders. This provides those leaders with a sense of the pulse of their company in minutes.
While communication tools are critical, no technology is going to magically create the camaraderie, cohesion and visibility that managers desire. In a sense then, this technology is platform agnostic. (In another sense, there are definitely advantages and disadvantages to the different choices, including the various features and philosophies represented by the different offerings.)
Leadership needs to be intentional about creating a culture where employees feel safe to speak up and where managers regularly respond to improve relationships and employee performance.
How is that accomplished?
Rituals To Create Trust
Many businesses still run with a certain amount of rigidity and protocol, which instills a sense of fear for employees. Structure is important but becomes a liability when employees don’t feel safe to speak up about where they are stuck or what is troubling them. Company leaders can create a culture of trust and transparency with these 3 rituals:
1) Believe In Your Core Values
One of our core values is Grant Trust and Be Transparent. That’s not just a meaningless platitude, everyone in our business lives it every day because leaders model that behavior. Our executive team encourages employees to be forthcoming by modeling that behavior with their own transparency.
Sydney Finkelstein is a Professor of Management at Dartmouth College. He suggests a ritual called The Mistake of the Month Meeting. Leaders share what went wrong with their own initiatives, including what they learned and how they mitigated the impact. This gives permission for employees to do the same. If an employee is willing to openly express a perceived failure, they’ll share just about anything.
2) Communicate often
Connecting every week is vital to the health of the company culture and raises employee morale. This is how we structure one of our all-hands virtual meetings, called Question Friday.
Sometimes these meetings are fun, in keeping with Plato’s philosophy that ”you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation”. We might ask a question like this:
What is your mutant power, something you are eerily amazing at?
But beyond learning about others, we also need to deepen bonds. So we also get vulnerable with questions like this:
What is something about you that you are reluctant to share with the team?
When we talk candidly with others and share something that feels a bit unsafe, we begin genuinely caring about co-workers as people and create connections that go beyond team-building.
3) Get Curious
No matter what communication tools leaders choose, a huge success factor is the type of questions they ask. Questions will vary from company to company based on the specific culture and will evolve over time as companies get more comfortable with transparent communication.
Every company should start with the basic elements; employee triumphs (personal & professional), obstacles, and high leverage goals. Try these questions:
What high priority tasks do you intend to accomplish between now and next week?
What happened / what did you do this week that you’re proud of?
Are there any obstacles you are facing, and can I help?
Is there anyone you’d like to get to know better on the team?
The first step for every business leader is to find the technology that is right for their company, but software isn’t going to autonomously manage employees and foster communication. Leaders must set the tone of transparency, communicate early and often, ask the right questions, and create an imperative for managers to engage with the responses that employees provide.
David Hassell is Cofounder & CEO of 15Five, employee engagement and performance management solution that helps create high performing teams by combining continuous feedback, pulse surveys, objectives (OKRs), peer recognition, and one-on-one meeting agendas, all in one lightweight weekly check-in. David has been named “The Most Connected Man You Don’t Know in Silicon Valley” by Forbes Magazine, and has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Inc., Entrepreneur, and Fast Company. Learn more about 15Five and David Hassell at www.15five.com.