Conversations: different styles for changing times

Technological, economic and social developments continue to change and shape society, providing opportunities for creative enterprise and new ideas to flourish, but also threatening the viability of others. The challange for these is learning to adapt, or risk becoming irrelevant. As figures for S&P 500 companies predict, the average life span of companies is likely to decrease from 60 to less than 15 years by 2020.

So we have entered the age of the networked society, where flexibility, inclusiveness and accountability are key watchwords underpinning Lean and Agile principles,  New ways of adding value are found by engaging customers, employees and all groups of stakeholders. Effective leadership requires role legitimacy based on personal skills and qualities, not just from a title. It means having the ability to persuade and influence others, to gain their trust and respect, and where employees’ contributions are actively sought around decision making, creative solutions, or ideas for change. 

Collaboration is required in all sectors. In education, teaching school alliances share best practice to solve shared problems; and community schools integrate education with local social and healthcare services.

Across the NHS and in healthcare charities are moves to community based models which emphasise education and prevention involving patients managing their own wellbeing and medical conditions.

So what are the some of the ways that help organisations thrive in these changing times?

Creating the right environment

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

Bringing values alive in everyday behaviour

An organisation’s vision and values, used effectively define what is important and can drive appropriate courses of action, Leaders are instrumental in supporting people to translate values into every work contexts 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 translated 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.

Engaging people in creating your future

People engage with what they create, so sharing information and including them 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 an ongoing exchange of ideas, embracing human qualities like empathy and warmth while being outcome oriented.

Focusing on the quality of conversations

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.

Making 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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