On Wednesday 1st February, Julie Chakraverty and Hari Miller took part in a webinar discussing how to create a culture of open communication. Julie is the founder of Rungway and has been a non-executive on numerous boards within financial services, tech and hospitality. Hari Miller is Director of Communications and Events at St. James’ Place, the largest home to investment managers in the UK.
Give people permission to speak
“Leaving your door open isn’t the same as people feeling they have the physical courage to walk through it”, says Hari. Despite leaders calling for feedback and opinions from their people, they have to appreciate not everyone feels comfortable doing so.
Julie expands on this by saying that “when you look different and you’ve spent years building your own personal brand”, you’re not going to jeopardise your position by publicly questioning the status quo.
From Rungway’s most recent data report, we know that colleagues of colour are twice as likely to use anonymity when asking a question, compared to their white counterparts. We also know that although women make up 49% of global users, they ask 56% of the questions - and 30% more career questions than men.
An audience member asked: Do you not worry that providing an anonymous vehicle to communicate will weaken your efforts to actually change your culture to one where people actually feel safe to raise their voices?
The answer is no. By providing your employees with psychological safety, you’re enhancing your culture because your people can now speak up without fear of judgement, and therefore their voice is heard. When you do this, you start to hear from a more diverse range of people and topics that are outside of your traditional network. Anonymity isn’t a sign of weakness in culture, it’s a tool that enables you to hear what is really happening in your organisation and what is important to people.
Face the truth head on
“Be relentless in surfacing your data”, says Julie. Don’t be afraid to be open with your people about what’s going on if you want to build trust.
Hari agrees that facing what's been said, even if it’s uncomfortable, is so important rather than waiting for a problem to happen later down the line. It’s easy for organisations to react defensively when faced with criticism or uncomfortable discussions, but lean into them instead and step out of your comfort zone. These moments can be signs of real progress.
Go even further by explaining what you’re doing, but also what you’re not doing and why. By taking your people along the journey with you by communicating effectively, you’ll build trust and loyalty in the long term.
By leaders also getting involved in 2-way discussions with their people, the reach is significantly extended. This form of communication means leaders are not inaccessible, but part of the team. This isn’t top-down broadcasts using corporate jargon, which can seem cold especially to younger generations, but real people talking in a language that resonates.
Measure your impact, not activity
You could be doing a number of things to try and encourage employee engagement, but are you aware of what impact it’s having? Has the business improved as a result? Monitoring ‘email opens’ or survey engagement is not enough to know if your people are really receiving your message. A more proactive approach to employee insights is needed to measure true, accurate impact.
You want to go beyond box-ticking exercises by having the right data and insights that help you understand where you can make the most difference. “You can do a lot with your gut feel, but you can do a lot more with data”, says Hari.
For example, if you’re able to understand where and why people are resistant to an organisational change, you can react much faster to bring your people on side. Through leadership visibility, too, you build up trust and credibility and have more leverage to turn resistors into advocates.