Elma O’Reilly, Founder, Parallel London – delivering innovative HR support in order to drive business.
In my role I am very lucky to work with many different types of brands and businesses and while they are from varied industries, the issues they face are very similar, the most common stemming from lack of communication. In my role I believe the ownership of the success of an employee lies between the manager and the employee themselves and for this communication is key.
You spend so much time and energy running your business and your employees should be facilitating this success and not be your biggest worry, but this is often the case. I always encourage open communication in the workplace from both sides and encourage an environment that supports it. But how can this work in a practical sense and how can you deal with the more difficult conversations when they arise?
Think of when you started in a new business and the things that may have made the first day nerve wracking – where are the toilets, how does the coffee machine work? You just need someone who is open and can help you with all these things. There is nothing worse than walking into an office and seeing heads downs, no one saying hello or acknowledging their colleagues. How often have I heard candidates coming back from interviews saying, “yes it went well but there just wasn’t a very nice atmosphere, no one said hello”. This may seem like a very simple observation, but it can say so much about a business.
Creating an accepting culture from the beginning will create a sense of openness. It will set the standard that the culture is one where people talk openly, help each other and communication is not forced.
You as a leader must set the standard for this as it will lead the way for your team.
This does not have to be complicated, employees like to know what is going on and how they can impact the business. The more you can get them engaged the more productive they will be. Share data and reports where you can, ask for their input and let them feel like they can contribute. I have seen so many businesses that on the outside seem to have a very strong communication process but when you ask employees, they do not know what the goals are of the business and what their part is in this – this is key to success.
It may be the case you can’t share some information but that is fine, if you build trust then employees will understand, and they know they will be informed of what is relevant and important to them.
A key in this is not letting it get to the point that gossip and misinformation is becoming the norm in your business. This is a very dangerous path and can lead to a toxic culture which will eat away at your business.
Be clear with employees on your expectations from the beginning. I often advise clients to add something to their handbook about what type of behaviours lead to success in your business – these can be really basic from “treat people with respect” to “make sure you fill up the coffee machine if you empty it”, sometimes it’s the little things. This way employees will know the expectations without having to make up their own.
Feedback can seem daunting and sometimes it may feel easier to just let things go but this is a short-term solution to an issue that could last a very long time. Don’t ever be afraid to give feedback on behavior and how the way someone works impacts your business.
If you do need to have a difficult conversation here are some helpful tips:
- Don’t leave it too long, ideally immediately but if this isn’t possible max 24 hours.
- Be specific, clear and use facts – this should not be emotional.
- Get to the issue and don’t wander around the point you are trying to get across. Otherwise they will leave the meeting not clear on the purpose. I suggest “I want to talk to you about the incident………and how you reacted………”
- Work on solutions – “ok so this happened, how can we work on it and make sure we learn from it and it doesn’t happen again”
I often see the best leaders are also able to take feedback very well. They can take it on board without seeing it as a personal attack and use it to better themselves and their organization. If you have created an open culture from the beginning, then this will come naturally. Maybe you are also looking for feedback in order to improve and employee surveys can really help with this and facilitate change. They can be done very economically via a survey website, the key is to give feedback to employees and tell them what you will work on based on the information they have given you. Also, be honest with them about what you cannot change, they will appreciate it. Actively listen and remember this is not a personal attack.
Hopefully this is a taster in communication and how it can help your business succeed. If you need support with your team, culture or any other areas of your business we would love to talk to you.