Communication goes up, down and across in a great company.
Be a positive example to those who work with you. This will encourage them to improve their own communication.
Encourage other people to attend to their communication by your example. Look for evidence in your own experience that effective communication is good for the business.
Keep the team/company vision in front of people: it is what engages their hearts as well as their minds.
Be ‘harmless' in your behaviour. Make sure that what you do will have a positive impact both now and in the future.
Choose honesty over the easy option - it will pay off in the long run.
Foster creativity by building trust. Develop a reputation for honesty to increase the safety of the environment.
Chatting to the senior partner in Wragge & Co.
Having access to senior people is an important element of great company culture. Colleagues feel included, valued and listened to. Equally, senior leaders get to hear what is happening in the business.
Some leaders remain at the top of the mountain, out of touch with what goes on below the cloud layer. They may feel safe, creating their own reality, but this lack of interest means they are disengaged from colleagues.
The senior partner of Wragge & Co. sits in a room all alone in order to communicate with everyone in the firm. That sounds odd, but it works really well. You may ask why he uses a live chat room when he could speak face to face. Yet the rationale makes sense: not everyone feels easy about having a conversation face to face with ‘the boss' - it can seem too daunting. A computer screen is a different proposition altogether. Then people can be open, honest and pretty frank, it seems.
At regular intervals, John
Crabtree sits in front of the screen, available for an afternoon of answering questions, listening to concerns and exchanging thoughts and ideas. The subject matter ranges from the state of the world through to the state of the local football team, passing through business issues on the way. People can maintain their anonymity if they so choose, but this is rare. The non-threatening nature of the medium leads to laughter, meaningful discussion and positive outcomes for colleagues and company alike.
A flag meeting at St Luke's
Sharing ideas, receiving feedback and getting encouragement are essential in creative organisations.
On the last Friday of every month, the whole company gathers in the restaurant at St Luke's for a ‘flag meeting'. This is the chance to share the successes, disappointments and conundrums of the past weeks and to get some feedback. Each team shows the work they have achieved - new plans made, adverts designed and ideas that did not quite make it.
It is a great way to celebrate success, congratulating those who have won business or delivered exciting work to clients. Fun, exciting, but not easy. True success also requires the willingness to talk about what did not work and why. Flag meetings include this too - all ideas are presented, drawing comments from people who see the value - or not - in what has been produced. Suggestions are made, thinking is challenged, and everyone is placed on their toes for the month ahead.
Not everyone can manage this level of openness. You have to find the way that suits your people and your business - but the idea of an open forum that assesses work is an interesting one. When done with a care and concern that is both challenging and supportive, it is a real spur to excellence.
Timpsons' area managers conference
As soon as you bring people together good ideas can flow. Two heads are always better than one.
Where people travel and work in isolation it is hard to keep them engaged. At Timpsons, individuals run shops, sometimes alone, serviced by area managers. These people travel the country providing the support and rigour needed to maintain the excellence that is central to the Timpson brand. Under these circumstances, keeping everyone aligned is no easy matter.
Every quarter, area managers come together for a meeting. To quote James Timpson:
John gives some figures for about 30 minutes and I take 20 minutes to talk through two or three issues we have. The next step is to give a few awards to the best performers. Then it's out on the town and throw beer at them. I don't care if they're up until 5 in the morning - the most important time in manager's conference is when they talk to each other. Next day we put them in five groups of three and give them from two to three questions, like how to recruit more women or how to manage their time. They come up with ideas and present them back for 10 minutes. I write it all up, take the boards home, type them and send them out - that's all we do.
But they will start recruiting more women and improve time management. We did not tell them how to do it, because they came up with the idea. They are on the ground and teach each other, so it happens. That's our system.
Suggestions boxes at Richer Sounds
Answers are obvious when you work in an area every day. Not accessing that information is detrimental to the business.
When you work directly with customers you know first-hand what works well and what drives everyone mad. We all recognise the organisations that do not trust their staff, and as a customer it is deeply frustrating to stand and wait for a senior manager who wants us to begin all over again. It affects the tone of the contact with the company and can be a spur never to use them again.
At Richer Sounds, David Robinson, CEO, does trust those who work for the company and recognises the knowledge they hold. Asking for regular input, he is concerned if no comments or suggestions come through. If colleagues are working well and having a good time, they will automatically think of how to give a better service to customers. Knowing that the leadership needs to hear from them is a great spur to creativity and engagement - they really are part of the success of the company.
Honesty at Microsoft It is all too easy for senior people to sit with their head in the clouds, especially if people cannot give honest criticism when mistakes are made. Managers and leaders must develop a culture of honesty or the business will suffer.
Steve Harvey has a challenge to all newcomers: ‘If you see something and think it is stupid, tell me and we'll get rid of it.' That level of honesty takes some getting used to, but once accepted is a great way to move forward. What looks eminently sensible at the top of an organisation can clearly be a non-starter to those directly involved. Ensuring access is an excellent way to maximise sensible behaviour in a business.
In such an electronics-friendly environment, response is rapid. ‘Any stupid policy will be thrown back at you in the first two minutes of being launched via e-mail on the Web. You get feedback pretty quickly about whether it is sensible or not.'
There are two aspects to every system of communication:
Does it work effectively?
Will people use it?
You have to ensure that each element is in place.
Consider the e-mail system:
Encourage people to speak face to face whenever they can.
Stop endless copying in for the sake of it.
Instigate e-mail-free days.
Give e-mail access to senior leaders. If the response is high, find someone who can screen the messages, putting the important ones in front of the person directly and attending to all the others.
Encourage people to take ownership by trusting them to act.
If this is not in the company ethos, set clear agreements about delivery and milestones.
Share responsibility for running the meeting in order to increase engagement.
Experiment with stand-up meetings to reduce the time taken.
Put people into small groups so that everyone gets a chance to speak and discuss ideas.
Invite criticism. Listen carefully to what is said, and act on it where it makes sense, or explain why you are not acting on it: this is the only way to ensure that you get the truth.
Try having a suggestions box system - but only if you are prepared to acknowledge ideas in a short space of time and give a full response as soon as possible.
Bring people together to talk about the work they are doing and to exchange ideas.
Encourage the giving and receiving of feedback by being open to it yourself.
Have open forums to which people can bring thoughts, concerns, and problems for discussion with interested people.
Have team meetings at which you discuss an issue in the business. Leave people to act on their ideas, giving them support when they need it.
Always celebrate successful ideas and good tries as soon as you can.