Creating an Open Climate for Communication
By Daisy Saunders
the owner and general manager of a small family-owned car
dealership. There are ten employees, including one assistant manager
who also serves as the service manager. On numerous occasions Manny
has boasted that they operate like a close-knit family. He is proud
of the way everyone pulls together to serve the customer. However,
for the past two years, sales have been decreasing and Manny is
determined to change this trend. At the weekly team meeting, he
makes a concerted effort to get ideas on how to further serve and
expand the company’s customer base. To his surprise, no one offers
Frustrated and at a loss as to why he is unable to get ideas from
his team, he hires a consultant to facilitate a
creativity/brainstorming session. All members of the staff were open
to having such a session. At the beginning of the meeting, Manny
informed the facilitator that he had to leave for a thirty-minute
conference call but would return as soon as the call was over.
Manny left the room, the facilitator again solicited feedback on how
the staff felt about the session. He got an earful. The overall
consensus was that although Manny boasted about an “open door
policy” and an interest in their ideas, over the years most of their
suggestions had been ignored. So, they simply stopped giving them.
Some people even felt that Manny had an “I’m the boss” or “do it my
way” attitude. Therefore, they were reluctant to approach him with
their concerns or suggestions. Does this scenario sound familiar?
Manny had a team that pulled together when necessary, he had
inadvertently and unknowingly failed to create a work environment
that fostered an open communication climate. In such a
climate employees feel free to express opinions, voice complaints,
and offer suggestions. This freedom is expression is fundamental to
creativity and innovation. Research has consistently shown that this
open communication climate has these seven distinct characteristics:
1) Employees are valued:
Employees are a reservoir of
information. They want to be heard and to feel that they are making
significant contributions in their workplaces. The manner in which
you hear them will shape, to a large degree, whether or not
they feel valued. Nothing is more demoralizing than asking employees
for suggestions, then ignoring them, without clearly explaining why.
When you ignore their ideas, you are sending the message that their
opinions don’t count. When employees don’t think their opinion
counts they feel detached and insignificant. Ultimately this
impacts the employees’ attitude which, in turn, impacts customer
service. On the other hand, when you recognize an employee’s
suggestion – whether you implement the suggestion or not – it builds
confidence in the company and reinforces to employees that their
efforts can make the organization better. In essence,
employees are happier and more motivated when they feel that they
are appreciated and treated with respect.
There is a high level of trust: Trust forms the foundation for
open communication, employee retention, and employee motivation.
Trust is empowering. Individuals who trust the people they work
with are self-assured, open and honest, willing to take risks, less
resistant to change, and inclined to act in a trustworthy manner. In
contrast, individuals who distrust the people they work with tend to
be less productive because they feel unsupported and alone. Trust in
an organization promotes cooperation, commitment, and a free flow of
ideas. It can help an organization survive and achieve a competitive
advantage. A key factor in maintaining a high level of trust is to
always tell the truth.
Conflict is invited and resolved positively: Conflict itself
isn’t good or bad – it’s just inevitable. Make it work for you by
using it to invite normal give and take dialogue with employees.
When dealing with conflict, be open-minded and listen. Take into
account the employees’ feelings about the situation and find areas
within their position in which you can both agree. If at all
possible, strive for a win/win. If
you don’t have conflict, you don’t have innovation and creativity.
Creative dissent is welcomed: Surveys have consistently showed
that most employees are afraid to question or disagree with their
superiors. However, in an organization where the leaders are
committed to fostering an open communication climate, dissent is not
only welcomed but rewarded. Employees are encouraged to think,
question, and form independent judgments and take responsibility for
changing the way business is done. One way to encourage employees
to think is initiating an employee suggestion program. This allows
the employees to come up with ideas on how to improve the company
and they are in turn rewarded for that.
Being able to express unique ideas allows the employee to
feel as if they contributed to the company in a positive way.
Employee input is solicited: In any serious world-class quality
effort, a key requirement is that all employees, (regardless of
race, gender, religion, culture, language, sexual orientation, age,
etc.) at all levels, be involved to their fullest abilities.
Employee input is a key to an organization’s success. Do not limit
open communication to only staff meetings. Create a questionnaire
or grievance form in which employees can express concerns in a
guaranteed confidential manner and then discuss it openly during a
meeting. This method will help
to provide information regarding your company that you may or may
not be aware of and it will also establish a sense of involvement,
improves working relations, and security for the employee.
Employees are well-informed through formal channels: While the
grapevine can be a credible source for communication, to avoid
misunderstanding and miscommunication, it is best to use formal
vehicles (meetings, memos, e-mail, etc.) to keep employees informed
on what is happening within the organization. If these tools are
not put into effect, then you are putting your company at risk due
to the lack of knowledge, interaction, support and formal
Feedback is on-going: Feedback (positive and negative) is the
tool for improved performance. Annual performance appraisals aren’t
enough. People need to know regularly how they are doing. When
giving feedback, be specific, descriptive, and focus on the person’s
behavior and not the person. An example of specific and descriptive
behavior is, “Chris, you did an exceptional job selling the Sentra
to that couple. Your attentiveness to their needs and your knowledge
of the car were excellent.” This is said as opposed to saying, “Good
job selling the car, Chris.” The latter is neither specific nor
descriptive and makes it sound as
though you’re not engaged with Chris’s efforts to improve. Feedback
must be on-going and given in effort to resolve problems without
placing guilt, and building relationships instead of “being
creating a communication climate where employees feel free to speak
their minds can be a daunting task. But it is well worth the
effort. The end results are better teamwork, enhanced work
relationships, increased job satisfaction, innovation, and
creativity. It can also make a world of difference in your
workplace and insure a trust-worthy exchange between employees.
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