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6 Secrets to Creating a Culture of Open Dialogue

6 Secrets to Creating a Culture of Open Dialogue

Guest article written by Kelly Andrews

We all talk, but do we really say much? Perhaps it’s that conversation by the water cooler, the whispering of the coworker across the cube, or better yet, the post on social media that tells more about your company than the values uttered every week during team meetings.

True open dialogue is a diamond in the rough within corporate America, and it’s not until recently that many organizations are starting to lend a listening ear to this simple, yet misunderstood principle. In fact, back in 2012, Salesforce conducted a study where they found that a whopping 86% of executives blamed workplace failures on a lack of collaboration and poor communication. What’s more, research by the Project Management Institute (PMI) showed that 1/3 of all project failures can be attributed to ineffective communication within the walls of your organization.

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You get the picture. So what can be done about it and what are some best practices leaders in the industry are using to combat this ineffectiveness?

Make Time for Questions. If you were to visit the Googleplex campus in Mountain View, California, one of the first perks employees might highlight are the forums held every Friday. During these sessions, the 20 most frequently asked questions throughout the company are answered by leadership candidly and openly. At times they may even share new developments or proprietary information – yet leadership trusts employees and, because of this, employees trust them right back.

Gather a Wide Variety of Feedback. DaVita’s CEO, Kent Thiry, is a firm believer in gathering honest and holistic feedback. To get a wide sample, he actively solicits the opinions of customers, suppliers, employees, and even ex-employees for how to improve. Moreover, to continue this flow of open dialogue, he and top managers throughout the organization make sure to follow up with these responses – further establishing credibility in his purpose and values.

Capitalize on Social Media. Writer Roger D’ Aprix, an IABC Fellow, recently called social media the “communication crowbar” to creating dialogue within organizations. For example, some companies such as Cisco Systems now use platforms like Twitter and Instagram to give employees a voice that was perhaps less heard. Additionally, company leaders such as Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, use the same applications to help disseminate thoughts and information in a more informal – and usually more relatable – way.

Be Honest and Transparent. Rochelle Dire, Chief People Officer at Quirky, explained the difference between the two in her role when stating, “Transparency is the surfacing of data and events; honesty is about your interpretation and desires. We are committed to being open about both.” Moreover, Jono Anzalone, an executive at American Red Cross, further clarified that in her job, “A good leader must balance an environment of ‘need to know’ versus ‘nice to know’ when dealing with client confidentiality that may impact lives.In order to create the type of dialogue that sprouts transparency and openness, it must accompany the safety of honesty.

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Encourage Dissent. Peter Drucker once said, “All the first-rate decision makers I’ve observed had a very simple rule: if you have quick consensus on an important matter, don’t make the decision.” To carry out this maxim, some companies such as Intel train employees in conflict management and create competencies centered around identifying and surfacing dissent. If you really want to measure how open of an organization you are, survey how frequently your employees are willing to speak up.

Don’t Be So Rigid. While some companies encourage accountability up to the 15-minute increment and unpaid lunches, others like to make sure that fun and collaboration are also included in the department budget. This can range from Zumba classes and softball teams at GEICO, to game nights and karaoke at CreditKarma. Sally Herships from Marketplace summed it up well when she said, “It can be hard to keep corporate hierarchies in place when you and your boss are singing to strangers.”

Open dialogue can be a tough pursuit for some, while others may ask why anything else could be tolerated. In a world of technology and endless information, dialogue is now easier than ever to start. Ultimately, talk is going to happen whether you like it or not – it is your choice as a leader to be a part of it.

kelly_andrewsKelly Andrews is part of the Development and Delivery team at VitalSmarts – makers of New York Times Bestseller Crucial Conversations. With a keen interest to empower behavioral change, he researches and writes on topics related to communication, e-learning, organizational change, and human resource management.

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