Continue to Build an Anti-Racist Workplace Culture with Clear and Common CommunicationPart 3
4 Questions to Evaluate Your Workplace Culture
Our last two blogs posed the questions of whether our culture encourages leaders “To be right or to be effective” and whether we as leaders “Have a healthy information diet.” Today, let’s explore the question, “In our quest for improving workplace culture, are we discounting the need to actively solicit and act upon other people’s suggestions and perceptions?”
Proper Communication is Essential to Improving Workplace Culture
Recall that for these posts, we’ve defined workplace culture to be the set of behaviors an organization practices repeatedly – because they work. In a healthy workplace culture, communication flows both up and down the organizational hierarchy while in unhealthy workplace environments, it tends to flow in only one direction: down. A bi-directional flow of information is essential for inclusive leaders to truly understand the challenges they are facing as well as for them to share their commitment to the creation of a workplace where discrimination, harassment, or racial intolerance will simply not be accepted in any form, by any group or individual.
“In order for communication to be effective, it must be both clear and common. Repeated, one-way monologues… are simply not enough.” – Steve Miranda, Global HR Expert
How Does a Leader Accomplish Optimal Transparency and Improve Workplace Culture Through Communication?
While emails, newsletters, social media posts, and large group meetings may make leaders feel good about what a great job they’re doing communicating and being inclusive, it’s important that they remember that, in order for communication to be effective and build an inclusive work environment, it must be both clear and common.
And while leaders may feel they’re being perfectly clear and inclusive, in order to get to a common understanding of what individual or organizational behaviors are seen as discriminatory or harassing, leaders must accept the fact that repeated, one-way monologues, as strong as the individuals’ commitment may be, are simply not enough to improve workplace culture.
Unless there are opportunities for employees to safely share their own personal experiences around workplace discrimination and harassment, leadership will be operating without the cultural radar needed to understand exactly what sort of weather the organization is flying in.
Continue to Increase Upward Communication
Want to surface ideas on how to increase the flow of upward communication? Consider asking the following questions:
- What X-Y plot does the team feel would yield valuable insights?
- When meeting with an employee, don’t ask them “How’s it going?” instead consider “Tell me about your week?”
- What issue have I wanted to bring up to my boss but haven’t yet? What fear is stopping me? Is that fear present throughout the organization?
Use Small-Group Sessions to Help Improve Workplace Culture
- Group your workforce into groups of least 20 people
- Use a 1-10 scale to evaluate each of their peers along two dimensions: “Level of technical / business skill” and “Commitment to teamwork”
- Submit inputs to an external third party to compile the averages and plot each person on an X-Y chart
- Give everyone a copy of the overall chart, but with only his or her own name labeled to see how their dot compared against their anonymous colleagues’ dots
Incorporate a Follow-Up Session:
Without focusing on individuals, follow up with the group by asking what teamwork and excellent technical and business skills look like to them.
In workgroups that I have experienced, the conversation was very robust and ranged from discussing traditional aspects of teamwork to areas where the team had not ventured before. These included specific behaviors around the support of women and minorities within the team as well as how individuals could be better allies in the workplace. At the end of the session, several members indicated that they now had a much better idea of what they needed to change, as well as what behaviors were truly admired across the team.
Next Steps for Organizational Leaders
If you as an organizational leader feel you or your team do not have the necessary skill sets or emotional maturity to handle such a session, do not wing it! These situations and conversations require the skills of someone who is adept at handling both the leader’s vulnerability as well as unexpected questions or observations that may arise from participants.
Equally important: make it extremely clear to his/her/their team that the purpose of these sessions is not to identify bad actors but rather bad practices in order to improve workplace culture. Simply put, finger-pointing will only result in the organization retreating further into silence as both leaders and individuals wonder “Am I next?” As the Japanese kaizen approach to quality tells us, “Do not focus on despising the defect in the individual. Rather, despise the defect in the process.”