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Part 2 – Talking the Talk, and then Walking the Walk
There is a lot of talking done at work. But all talk is not created equal. Some of it consists of pleasantries and personal chit chat, which is normal among coworkers and helps with bonding and rapport (within limits). Some talk is comprised of actual work conversations that can drag on and be unclear or wholly unproductive. And then there is the kind of talk that helps communicate the vision, formulate the plans, flesh out details of how, when, where and by whom work will be done, and solve the problems that arise in business. Indeed, some conversations are critical for success. Some should be limited. And some should not happen at all. So how does a manager determine which chats are nothing more than idle gossip and pointless blather, which are work-related but are an unfocused waste of time, and which conversations are highly beneficial to the organization and get everyone working on productive tasks? It begins by recognizing the kinds of workplace conversations that happen and how to deal with each.
1. Personal Chatter at Work
Personal conversations in the workplace are normal and common. But occasionally they can be a problem. On the one hand, too much talking can cause a slump in productivity. On the other hand, curtailing personal conversations can drive morale down. Finding balance is important to ensure work gets done but that employees feel connected to the organization. No employee wants a tyrannical boss. And, no company wants a bunch of lollygagging chatterboxes.
To find a happy balance, it helps to establish limits on what kind of talking is acceptable and let employees know what is considered crossing the line. One way to do that is to establish a Personal Talk Workplace Policy. This way, employees need to know what is and isn’t acceptable. Also, set and enforce clear and consistent boundaries so that everyone knows there are limits and that those who cannot follow these limits will be reproached. It is also a good idea to use positive reinforcement by noticing and rewarding employees who don’t have personal conversations too often, and focus on getting work done. And it is always a good idea for leadership and managers to set the example by limiting their own personal conversations. In this way, companies can keep pleasant but not-work-related chats to breaks, lunch and after hours.
2. Discussions that Waste Time and Energy
There are many work-related conversations that are an even bigger waste of time and energy than personal ones. One common conversation time-waster is a classic miscommunication. Sydney J. Harris once pointed out that two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but signify different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through. The problem with a lot of workplace communication is that there is a lot of information being given out, but not a lot of communication getting through. That is the definition of miscommunication. Misunderstandings between people about roles, goals, and responsibilities is a major source of wasted time and energy at work. They also lead to inefficiencies, anger, frustration, and unhappiness. It often requires an enormous amount of time to clear up a miscommunication and get matters back to normal. Not only are miscommunications among coworkers a major waste of time, they also lower work performance. To correct a miscommunication requires feedback. Feedback is an essential ingredient that converts information to communication.
Another time-wasting form of communication is when employees share poor or incomplete information. That leads to erroneous assumptions and conclusions which then decreases work performance. People will often jump to conclusions or make false assumptions on the basis of wrong information they were told. The solution is actually to talk even more by taking the time to ask questions, and listen carefully to the answers before proceeding. If a key piece of data points to a problem or challenge, that information should be clarified and confirmed to ensure it is accurate.
The largest time and energy-wasting form of communication at most organizations, however is aimless and frequent meetings. Too many meetings, or aimless meetings — that proceed without agenda, direction, or closure — are an enormous waste of time and a productivity black hole. Meetings that start and stop without any particular resolution generally reduce productivity, instead of increasing it. No problems are solved. No decisions are made. No responsibilities are assigned. No deadlines are set. This is the worst kind of workplace chatter. The solution is to have a set agenda for every meeting, determine the start and end time, ensure that deadlines and responsibilities are set during the meeting and that even decisions that are put off have a deadline for being resolved. This creates accountability for the time spent at every meeting.
3. Conversations that Have Value and Drive Productivity
The best workplace conversations are those that help communicate the mission and vision of a company or work on formulating plans and fleshing out the details of how, when, where and by whom work will be done. And even more valuable are those conversations that focus on solving business problems. In other words, the best workplace talk is dialogue that is limited, clear and drives everyone to do. Doing more and talking less are the best workplace discussions.
Someone once said “Words should be used as tools of communication and not as a substitute for action.” To ensure that the talk leads to productivity and valuable work, every employee involved in a planning meeting or work discussion should focus on action and consider such questions as: “Is this doable?” “How do we make this happen?” Do we have the resources needed to actualize this plan?
For example, if at a meeting, the company decides that one of its subject matter experts is going to start blogging, she should consider if she has time in her schedule to be able to write a blog weekly or biweekly. She should ask herself if she will be able to come up with fresh content week after week. Or will she start the blog and then have it fizzle out like 95% of new blogs?
Similarly, if a sales executive is going to start posting on LinkedIn to reach potential clients, the business development team should consider if that salesperson will be able to sustain the time it takes to be a regular contributor? They should ask if he is willing and able to channel the energy it takes to post and then reply to countless comments. Will he want to drop it after three months if it doesn’t generate the results he wanted?
While dreaming and planning is exciting, it is important to ensure that the talk that creates plans is achievable. Case in point. Salesforce’s leadership team discussed gender equity both internally and publicly. Their April 17, 2018 blog said “At Salesforce, equality is a core value and an important part of our culture. We are committed to creating a world where everyone has equal rights, equal access to education, equal opportunities to succeed and equal pay for equal work.” Cindy Robbins, Chief People Officer at Salesforce, said “There is no finish line for equal pay and we are more committed than ever to achieving pay equality inside our four walls and outside.” Salesforce CEO and Chairman Mark Benioff was also interviewed on 60 Minutes about their commitment to pay equality. Mr. Benioff spoke at length about how committed Salesforce is to gender equity and pay. The question is whether Salesforce was willing and able to back up the talk with action.
Salesforce did. In fact, Salesforce acted on their commitment before they even started talking about it to the media. They acted first and talked after. In 2015, Salesforce took a public stance on pay equality. They vowed to review employee compensation on an annual basis to ensure everyone is paid equally for equal work and close any gaps that existed. Since then, they have conducted two equal pay assessments and have spent $6 million to ensure equal pay for equal work.
In 2018, they expanded the scope of their assessment to evaluate salaries, as well as bonuses globally. They also looked at differences in pay for not only gender, but also race and ethnicity in the U.S. They found that 6 percent of their employees globally required adjustments and spent $2.7 million to address the differences between gender, as well as race in the U.S. The percentage of affected employees in 2018 was cut nearly in half, down from 11% the prior year, despite Salesforce growing 17% year-over-year. Their latest assessment showed that equal pay was a moving target, especially for growing companies in competitive industries. Benioff told 60 Minutes “We’re going to have to do this continuously. This is a constant cadence.” They found that every time they conduct the assessments, they learn more about the numerous factors that contribute to pay inequality — including legacy industry practices, acquiring companies and external changes in the job market — all of which they are proactively working to address. So Salesforce’s leadership team not only talked the talk, they were willing to walk the walk long-term. Now that is effective communication.
Quote of the Week
“Communication will bring understanding and understanding will cause harmonious mutual relationships which can establish stability and success.” Lobsang Tenzin
© 2019, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.