Conversations: different styles for changing times

Technological, economic and social developments continue to shape society. Whilst they provide opportunties for creativity, enterprise and new ideas to flourish, they also threaten the viability of some orgnisations and their way of doing things.  All organisations, even those in relatively stable environments, have to meet the challenge of learning to adapt, or risk becoming irrelevant. As figures for S&P 500 companies show, the average life span of companies is predicted to decrease from 60 to less than 15 years by 2020.

This is age of the networked society, which uses the vocabulary of Lean and Agile principles, where flexibility, inclusiveness and accountability are key watchwords. It is one in which new ways of adding value are being found by engaging customers, employees and all groups of stakeholders. This requires adapting a style of leadership, gaining role legitimacy from personal skills and qualities. not just from a role or title. it means having the ability to persuade and influence others, to gain their trust and respect.  Trust comes from engaging people in conversations in which their contribution is actively sought and welcomed – whether around decision making, coming up with creative solutions, or implementing ideas for change. 

This shift is occurring across sectors: in education, teaching school alliances share best practice to solve shared problems; community schools integrate education with local social services and healthcare services. School leaders use feedback and focused dialogue to improve teaching practice and raise standards.

Across the NHS and healthcare charities, models of expert led dependency based around hospital visits are moving to community based models emphasising education and prevention.  There is momentum towards involving patients in managing their own wellbeing and medical condition.

Those who think they don’t need to adapt, or won’t, struggle, and the results from engagement surveys point to the consequences through dissatisfied customers and fed up employees leaving organisations.

So what are the some of the things that can help organisations thrive in changing times?

Create the right environment

Leaders coordinate workplace behaviours for the organisation to work. Central to this is culture, which provides a shared sense of why you exist and what you do as an organisation.  Creating an environment  –  the mood and tone  –  for people to communicate in an open and trusting way feeds your culture and creates the platform for leaders to engage employees to think about ‘us’.   People engage when asked: “What should we do? What would we agree if we could talk about it?” The emphasis should be on creating a ‘we – thinking’ mindset so people think collectively and cooperate to achieve shared goals.

Bring your values alive in everyday behaviour

Organisational values state what is important about what it does and how it is done. They provide perspectives on appropriate courses of action, and leaders are instrumental in supporting people to translate values into every work context to bring them alive in work behaviours. If you value being ‘engaging’ then everyone should understand what this means in the way they conduct themselves and how they connect with others at every touchpoint.  Used effectively, values create a framework for leaders to communicate key messages, using language that brings them alive in people’s hearts and minds, and in a way that helps translate them into work routines. This helps coordinate employees’ behaviour across functions and enables the potential for a rich diversity of ideas to emerge from even the most unlikely of places.

Engage people in creating your future

People engage with what they create, so sharing information and including others in decision making brings them with you. Conversations have more resonance when they engage people, so they should be inclusive in feel and tone, rather than transactional. Leaders’ style of conversation should invite dialogue and ongoing exchange of ideas, embracing human qualities like empathy and warmth while being outcome oriented.

Focus on the quality of the conversation

Time spent engaging with people should be purposeful, with attention given to the quality of the conversations, not how much time it takes.  Consider the difference in impact of listening to someone for 5 minutes in an attentive, focused way, to spending 15 minutes where your attention is really on the time this person is taking up, not what they are saying.

Make conversations central to the way you work, not incidental.

Open and engaging conversations generate positive energy, emotional awareness and build effective working relationships.  Interactions don’t only take place in formalised business activities like meetings or conference calls.  Conversations are not only about tasks, agendas, items for discussion, they provide the opportunity to engage with someone in a way that makes that person feel like they are part of a collaborative endeavour.

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