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9 Cultural Norms That Foster Continuous Change and Improvement, Part V: The Need for Change Masters’ Commitment to Transparent Communications

“The best way to prove the clearness of your mind, is by showing its faults; as when a stream discovers the dirt at the bottom, it convinces us of the transparency and purity of water.”

In part five of my series, “9 Cultural Norms That Foster Continuous Change and Innovation,” we look at Transparent Communication. ​Studies show that great leaders are open communicators and very good listeners. Against the backdrop of a VUCA world (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) it isn’t surprising that during the pandemic one study found that 90% of employees wanted at least weekly communication from their company. Moreover, a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that of Americans who say workplace culture improved since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, 59% credit communication. ​Now, more than ever, leaders and managers who communicate ​honestly, openly, and authentically​ are more credible, more often heard and considered more trustworthy.

Transparent communications are the building blocks of operational excellence, especially when disruptive change from the status quo is being implemented. It is the essence of connection and disconnection — “He doesn’t communicate” “Why didn’t you tell me” “Guess I’m out of the loop.” Both the power and the absence of transparent communication is felt in small stings and large waves that can either erode or promote team members’ trust in leadership and the possibility and its achievability.

The commitment to frequent transparent communication excellence is the change master’s single most important tool. And transparency is free, yielding an excellent return on your investment! The goal? Clear, accurate, honest, outcome- and action-oriented communication that invites open discourse and constructive debate.

Top down, leaders need to model frequent, honest, and open communication, showing an enthusiasm and willingness to share. Their emphasis on intentional and effective communication helps cultivate a resilient culture. It also promotes collaboration, enhances trust, reduces job-related stress, improves employee morale, increases the sharing of ideas and boosts employee happiness and morale. All critical benefits at a time when mental health is at an all-time low.

1. Transparent Communication is a two-way street

There is a growing tidal wave of inattentiveness. In an always-on digital world that only gets busier, there is a shift to divided attention. We have become numb to this unacceptable destructive behavior. We often welcome it, in error, as a sign of productivity. As individuals, we no longer demand undivided attention. We expect to hear pinging in the background on online calls. We expect to see people checking their emails, texts or social media during conversations or meetings. And as businesses, we unthinkingly broadcast mass communications without factoring in the full impact on our work ecosystem.

Communication is not one-sided. Optimal communication involves receiving as well as sending information. Active listening forces us to hear beyond people’s words, to signal that we’re listening, and to seek clarity through questions and reflections. It requires awareness, patience, and a shift in business as usual. But it returns so much more through validation. When someone is heard, and their opinion respectfully considered, that’s a powerful first step toward successful communication. Employees are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to produce their best work when they believe their voice is heard.

When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.

Ernest Hemmingway

Action Tips:

  • Encourage people to slow down and focus on the exchange taking place to respect the individual
  • Build in feedback loops, allowing time and space for consideration and reaction
  • Teach the skill, model the behavior, and activate layers of management to be the ears for the organization
  • Be timely with your communications and answer questions honestly and with explanations

 

2. Transparent Communication drives connection

Working hand in hand with active listening is empathy. Active listening is key, but unless you also teach people that you expect them to show empathy, active listening won’t resonate as genuinely and won’t therefore be given full necessary consideration. It’s one thing to listen, reflect and get clarity; it’s another to put yourself in the shoes of another and truly accept that person’s bona fides and for them to feel heard with no judgement.

As the world of work continues to circle around the topics of change in remote and hybrid work environments, the conversation also needs to broaden to include connectedness. New research released by Accenture shines a light on a shift in focus to omni-connection. Technology is an enabler and empowers our connection; but understanding the level to which people still feel disconnected, and being able to address and support that, requires a next level of management prowess.

Empathy is the only human superpower — it can shrink distance, cut through social and power hierarchies, transcend differences, and provoke political and social change.

Elizabeth Thomas

Action Tips:

  • Learn about and eradicate hurdles to active listening – like subconscious biases and micro-aggressions – and welcome diverse thinking
  • Include steps to help ensure that quiet or reticent voices are also engaged
  • Take time to truly connect and go a level deeper beyond sharing information to build an environment where employees thrive
  • Encourage honesty, but stop short of radical honesty

 

3. Transparent Communication drives inclusion

Transparent communication requires placing a premium on the universal involvement of all stakeholders in making decisions and accepting responsibility for outcomes. If you are part of making a decision, then that first step toward implementing the outcome has already been accomplished. You have bought in!

When stakeholders are informed (and all your people are stakeholders!) and involved at every step, they develop a sense of psychological safety. They will trust that they’ll see it all at the right time — good, bad, and ugly; and they gain empowerment as well as the authority to anchor their actions. According to Deloitte research, the behaviors of leaders (whether senior executives or managers) can cause a 70% difference in the number of people who feel highly included.

It’s the oversights that can cause a negative ripple effect. Not a month seems to go by without a leaked email or communication hitting the news from an unthinking leader with an opaque communications style. Even small, omitted communications can create a large impact when omissions are perceived as slights, or cause an over-reaction, especially in a culture where transparency is not the norm.

Frequent communication with your stakeholders is critical when executing on a business transformation. If your communications channels are not open, the chances of being able to successfully execute are drastically reduced.

I see very little in the way of decision-making that doesn’t come with interdependencies or the necessity to build awareness, understanding and support among all stakeholders including those who will be affected and those on whom execution is dependent. And yet it is repeatedly missing. The time for holding onto the outdated legacy of silos is long gone. It’s important that everyone is equipped with the information needed — including the all-important context — to position them to exceed expectations in the accomplishment of their duties and responsibilities. This further develops a results-focused culture.

Inclusive leaders cast a long shadow.

Juliet Bourke

Action Tips:

  • Align communication and actions with the mission, vision, goals, and strategies of the organization
  • Leverage all communication tools to support your communications strategy
  • Make communication efforts multi-directional, as well as vertical (through reporting lines), horizontal (across teams) and diagonal (across organizational departments)
  • Welcome inclusion of all stakeholders to building a strong culture of trust and belief in the possibility and its achievability

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The benefits speak for themselves. Done well, transparent communications allow for the exchange of ideas and thoughts, remove ambiguity from the process, streamline optimal functioning and build high levels of trust and support. With transparent communications that is consistent and honest, the change master can execute efficiently and circumvent many of the challenges that will arise as circumstances evolve.

Explore the other four of the nine cultural norms that position for continuous change and innovation by reading my earlier blogs.

  1. Unwavering Commitment
  2. Results Focus
  3. Resiliency
  4. Innovative Thinking and Action
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