While the labels are alarmist, what’s behind these things is troubling.
But it’s nothing new — and it’s not surprising. For a long time we’ve seen statistics showing dissatisfaction and disengagement among workers across many sectors of the economy.
Now that COVID has faded, people are taking a hard look at their work environment. Annoyances they used to tolerate suddenly seem like tipping points that can cause them to quit or stop trying.
And while there are an endless number of factors that could push someone toward dissatisfaction, I truly believe — and have found — that most workplace problems can be solved with better communication.
And this makes communication a critical component of a healthy company culture.
If you’re out there boasting about company culture, but you’re not actively promoting communication best practices, I have news for you: Your culture is likely not as strong as you think.
That’s how substantial the connection is between culture and communication. You can’t have one without the other. And the responsibility for both rests with company leadership.
Communication starts at the top
Communication failure rests on the shoulders of the leadership team. They might not sit in every meeting or compose every email, but they set the tone and they establish priorities.
Good communication is no accident — it’s the product of hard work, careful mentoring, and psychological safety. If leadership isn’t allowing those things to exist, communication will suffer.
Balance candor and caring
Leaders, it is your job to be the most high-caring AND the most direct person in the room.
Everyone who works under you must know you care about them deeply as people AND that you will hold them to high standards. This is, essentially, the framework Kim Scott proposes in her book Radical Candor.
To model great communication as a leader means you need both: caring and candor.
Caring without candor leads to, in Scott’s words, ruinous empathy, which includes vague praise and nice comments that never lead to growth.
Candor without caring will mean that every time you offer critical feedback, people wither under your critique.
Leaders can set the tone by practicing the communication model they want their company to adopt.
Middle managers, you’re on the front lines
But as important as leadership is, I think middle management is the communication battleground. This is where the strategies and ideals of the leaders meet the realities of everyday workers. Poor communication at the managerial level leads to bitterness, frustration, and, ultimately, turnover.
But it’s not the manager’s fault. Chances are, they’re just managing the way they were managed.
Most managers spend years being managed before they get promoted to management themselves. All of this experience impacts the way they manage once they are promoted. Unless they’ve had exceptional managers during that time, they’re unlikely to become exceptional managers themselves.
Unless they’re trained differently.
We need to stop managing the way we were managed
Without training, managers will continue a cycle of mediocre management and miscommunication.
Too often, we promote someone into a managerial role and then essentially throw them to the wolves.
Managers need help.
At IMPACT, we have all managers read The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier. In it, the author outlines seven questions to ask in every 1-1 meeting to forge connection with direct reports — while still checking in about work priorities.
This book provides a helpful framework, but it doesn’t count as training.
Managers need to be coached on all the soft skills necessary to mentor their direct reports, such as:
Giving effective praise
Giving useful feedback
And so on.
On top of that, managers should record all 1-1 meetings and re-watch them when they can. They should pay attention to their own body language, use of follow-up questions, and listening skills.
New managers should watch a 1-1 with their managers once a month. As they develop their own style and competence, that can get reduced to twice a year.
When managers are trained to manage people — not just workers — the entire organization improves.
This is where the rubber meets the road. If leadership and management are committed to improving communication, the frontline workers will be ready to follow suit.
Of course, these folks don’t have the power or prestige of the other two groups. Company leaders can be radically candid all day long, but the culture has not changed until the people lowest on the ladder feel comfortable doing the same.
How do you make new workers feel comfortable being candid and direct?
Among the topics new employee training should cover:
How do you disagree with your boss?
How do you run concerns up the ladder?
What’s expected of you during a 1-1?
If you leave employees to figure these things out along their journey, communication will be a constant struggle for your organization.
Each new onboarding is a chance to re-examine the communication skills of the whole team. If the newest hire is empowered (and expected!) to be radically candid, it will have a profound effect on company culture.
When companies choose to improve communication, they’re choosing to improve their company’s culture.
The results of this work are extremely valuable: happier workers, increased productivity, and less turnover.
The success of your business may depend on it.
At IMPACT, we train professionals and aspiring leaders to become world-class communicators. If you want to learn more about our framework for communicating with customers, clients, and coworkers, check out our certified coaching program.