Related to the Harvard Business Review article being discussed in these blog posts, from the same authors, is the book Talk, Inc.: How Trusted Leaders Use Conversation to Power their Organizations. In it, they list the four I’s of conversational leadership:
This post covers intimacy. Intimacy in the context of conversational leadership means shortening distances between leaders and team members thru:
- Listening. Many years ago, I asked a board member, the best advice he ever got. He paused and said, “First seek to understand then seek to be understood.” This is habit number five in Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. As a leader, we need to make a lot of decisions. For me, it can be tempting to make a decision quickly before listening/getting input. Every week, I can point to an example where following this advice (of waiting, listening, and getting input) resulted in not only better decisions but a better experience/process for those impacted by the decision.
- Equality. Managers using a conversational approach to leadership won’t dictate or demand based on their title. They let the best idea win.
- Transparency. In a conversational approach to leadership, the authors note, organizations and leaders need to be willing to “share sensitive data such as financials.” Intertech has been open book for so long, I can’t remember when we didn’t share financials. When other business owners have questioned me on this practice, I share most people in an organization want to know how the organization is doing financially. This is especially true in tougher economic times. If people don’t have information they’ll make it up. What they make up will be way better or worse than the actual situation.
Next: Dialogue and growth as ways to improve communication
Last Thursday, for the eighth time, Intertech was named one of the Best Places to Work.
My thanks to all the employees of Intertech and to the Business Journal for making this possible.
At Intertech, we start setting guidelines for communication on a new employee’s first day. We hand out an Intertech Communications Guidelines document. At about a dozen pages in length, this document has a series of practical bullet points on communication. Below are just a few:
- “I don’t know” is okay, especially when teamed with “I’ll find out.” This is much safer than bluffing. It shows you are honest and you are not panicking in the face of a challenge. If you follow up with an answer quickly, it shows you are responsive.
- Listen. Seek first to understand then to be understood. When you sense someone’s upset or miscommunication has taken place, listen without going through what you plan on saying in your mind. If appropriate, to make sure you’ve understood the issue(s) restate what the person said.
- Act with character, be committed and divide and conquer. Adversity tests character and shows others how we are “wired” at our core. Our leadership and the customer will reward and remember behaving with character and being committed to solving problems. If you lose heart when adversity comes, your only strength will be weakness.
We’ve institutionalized communication through:
- A yearly “Town Hall.” At our Town Hall, employees discuss, in the absence of the leadership team, how we’re doing as a firm. After the Town Hall, an employee who facilitated the event anonymously shares the feedback.
- Huddles. Throughout the firm, we use huddles – stand up meeting where we’re talking about what’s happening – big updates, stuck items or problems, and track metrics. Huddle frequency is based on a person’s role in the firm. For example, at a leadership team level, we do daily huddles. For our software teams, we call out to them once a week to check in on project status (many of our teams use Agile and Scrum approaches to application development so they’re doing daily huddles).
- A weekly newsletter. This newsletter shares what’s happened over the past week and important upcoming events.
- A monthly all company meeting. In this meeting, we cover updates on strategic goals, sales, R&D, and our P&L.
- A social network. We use a product called Yammer for internal dialog throughout the day—employees post ideas, questions, and updates.
Along with the institutionalized communication, nothing beats just talking with people as you run into them in the hallway. A simple, “What’s the best thing that’s happened today?” can get a good conversation going.
Next: Leadership communication elements
This is the third post in a series on leadership communication. This series is based on an article in the June 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review by Groysberg and Slind. In it, they cite five core reasons behind the dramatic shift in leadership communication over the past decade. The reasons are economic, organizational, global, generational, and technological:
- Economically, the increase in service and knowledge-based industries has increased the need for faster, frictionless communication
- Organizationally, companies are flatter and faster with more decisions being made by front-line employees
- Globally, employees can be around the world. This demands infrastructure for conversations
- Generationally, younger workers don’t hope for two-way conversation from their leaders, they expect it
- Technologically, the internet and social media platforms make communication instant and around the clock
In the next post, I’ll share specific ways that we support leadership as a conversation at Intertech.