Due to the costly failed attempt to expand to the European market, and recognition of the major underlying cultural problems which resulted in the unsuccessful expansion, our team has been tasked with proposing plans for revitalizing your corporate culture. Key personnel, who could have provided advice to avert the flawed expansion strategy, did not voice their concerns or advice because such actions were not culturally encouraged. As an executive management team, you have recognized that this failure to uphold a corporate culture which values candid communication at all levels was the ultimate cause of this setback.
This proposal is designed to uncover potential obstacles to creating a culture which foster candid communication, and present a plan of action to alter the corporate culture from the ground up. Question 1: The obstacles of fostering candid communication can be categorized into three areas: personal, physical and cultural. When discussing personal obstacles, the outer layers peel back to find both interpersonal and intrapersonal barriers that your organization will find in their journey to value candid communication.
For example, interpersonal barriers occur between team members, such as differences in personality styles or behavioral preferences. Ignoring or not addressing these differences can lead to rivalry, competition and fear of speaking up due to retaliation or further dislike from other co-workers. Though individuals in your company may not like or be willing to work with one-another, the major obstacle is to first get them talking to address their differences.
Furthermore, even if your employees hold similar behavioral or personality styles, another obstacle may be that their relationships might not be strong enough to support constructive criticism from others, indicating a lack of trust. The absence of trust is the first dysfunction of a team, according to Patrick Lencioni. “Trust is the foundation of a team” and the lack of trust is the team’s inability “to understand and open up to one another” (Lencioni, pg. 43-44).
Strong, trusting relationships support providing feedback to other employees and supervisors without fear of future scrutiny. Lack of trust within a group also holds a strong influence on intrapersonal barriers to speak freely. Intrapersonal barriers are those that occur within the individual self or mind but are strongly influenced by their surroundings. For example, without the feeling of trust, employees may revert back to their safety zone by keeping quiet and holding back opinions in order to protective themselves (Lencioni, pg. 195).
Likewise, other intrapersonal barriers can be as simple as the individual’s self-confidence level or working with individuals who prefer not to provide criticism for fear of rejection from the group. In addition, another obstacle is the absence of individual’s sense of belongingness to the company, one of Maslow’s steps in his Hierarchy of Needs. Belongingness comes from the company support of employees through personal development and job enrichment which play a critical role for employees to recognize that they and their opinions are valued enough to be shared.
Secondly, physical barriers of separation, such as the physical distance between locations, geographic barriers like oceans or even walls between offices, can also hinder the ability to communicate openly to employees,. For example, as your company expands internationally, it will face the creation of virtual teams. Virtual teams are at a disadvantage to build trusting, strong relationships because they do not have the luxury of sitting across the table from one-another to work out disagreements. And, even if they wanted to, it would be extremely expensive for the company to fund trips back and forth across the pond.
On the other hand, co-located employees may still feel that physical barriers impede their ability to share from blocked areas and closed doors providing visual cues to employees that they are either not needed or wanted. Last, as your company grows it will face both society and company built cultural barriers. Societal barriers, such as international relations and generational differences can influence the effectiveness of conducting business and building relationships in the future. For example, do the companies that we are working with international hold the same emphasis on candid dialog?
Do cultural barriers or age differences enable employees to provide productive feedback or criticism without violating a social norm or without fear of creating adversarial relationships? Both examples of societal based barriers greatly influence the ability of people to feel they can share openly. Likewise, company built cultural barriers continue to obstruct straight talk if the culture does not reward such behavior and the population contains individuals who do not fit the cultural mold. For example, Nordstrom employees who are not fanatic about how amazing you Nordstrom’s is will “be ejected like a virus” ().
Employees who do not see rewards for behaviors or do not agree with the cultural behaviors will not be comfortable to share candidly. Question 2: In order to combat these negative obstacles the company must first create and communicate a solid value structure, mission statement and form committees to help implement and generate ideas. The assurance that people feel valued needs to be the primary focus of the company citing the well known fact that employees are the number one customers.
A credo similar to the one mentioned in Built to Last (p. 9) for Johnson & Johnson, listed open for all to see, must be presented to the employees specifically listing core values including but not limited to: welcome change, be honest/open, recognize success but not shun failure, treat everyone with respect and spend considerable amount of time nurturing culture. For maximum impact management needs to proactively practice (MBWA) by walking around displaying, encouraging and measuring the success of all these values. These values and structures need to be engrained early in the employees so that the culture will become second nature.
The objective is for the employee to be culturally rooted early. This is why the processes of recruiting, hiring, socializing and training new employees is critical, similar to Nike within Built to Change “the company fostered a “just do it” identity that was reflected in its structure, the people it hired”(p. 46). Once hired, the cultural foundation has been set and injection into the company’s system will receive little resistance making it simple to promote candid communications. Disregarding early processes may allow people to slip into the company who don’t fit the cultural mold and/or they are not properly adjusted into the system.
These outcasts have a possibility of being rejected from the system resulting in employee turnover or a multitude of other problems. Recruiters can ensure recruits fit into the open communication culture by various techniques of evaluation, starting at first contact, including socializing events and interview processes. Events that require potential employees to socialize with current employees at their peer level will help evaluate their compatibility within the system and the employees.
Employees administering interviews are encouraged to ask more behavioral questions rather than job function related questions. This will also ensure that new candidates are on the right path to successful transplant into the company. Once hired, new employees are to be indoctrinated with the concept of free speech. In order to build relationships and foster vertical communication, all new employees regardless of position, are to attend a high level onboarding training that is done within one large room.
Next they participate in a communication building scavenger hunt requiring them to find and speak to certain individuals within the organization. The new employees are then paired with existing employees in their own department for 3-6 months because it typically takes a while for employees to become situated and comfortable in their new environment. By training employees in this way you guarantee little deviation from expected culture and instill the free speech initiative, making it easier to have candid conversations.
People tend to respond positively to change when they receive recognition from managers. Displaying exceptional behavior is often overlooked leading employees to believe that the attribute is not exceptional or essential to success. When establishing a system for rewarding positive behaviors, especially those that revolve around the core values and candid communication, the rewards need to be in high regard to the employee and not necessarily monetary, Microsoft shows this in Built to Change when it “employees have challenging work and, of course, one of the most highly rewarding stock plans around…. hereby attracted some of the country’s top software engineers and marketing geniuses”(p. 47).
Equally important within the innovation process is having more time to develop new ideas shown in Built to Change 3M’s “policies and practices that give employees time to experiment, and its reward system recognizes innovative work” (p. 39). The rewards and time provided for ideas generated will bring about open communication but would be ultimately ineffective in the event that there isn’t a way to evaluate these ideas and innovations.
Therefore a committee consisting of white and blue collar workers should be assembled to evaluate and investigate ideas that are submitted for validity or cost effectiveness. To instill a culture that embraces and utilizes open communication candidly the company must have a way to promote and judge the performance of the changes. A committee will be formed in order to set goals, establish who will be in charge, schedule mingling events, enrich communications and ultimately ensure that this initiative isn’t forgotten.
The mingling events would serve as a tool to not only build relationships between employees, breaking down communication barriers, but to strengthen and reinforce ties to the company. Some examples of the events would include speed mentoring, company picnics, benefit fairs, blood drives and fundraising events. Next the committee would be responsible for enriching communications throughout the company by fostering goodwill, laying out company-wide changes and compiling and maintaining the medium for communication disbursement. Mediums of communication can vary from newsletters, memos, banners or blogs.
In Corporate Culture and Performance, Tandem Computers practices this by displaying achievements “are regularly recognized on bulletin boards as Our Latest Greatests”(p. 16). Communication transmitted must be professional to avoid wasting time across the organization. Some additional information, including information about the CEO’s family, may be added to show that she is human and the message is genuine. The committee would also explain new product information, organizational issues that might be confusing and benefit changes that might seem to only benefit the employer.
By doing this managers can build rapport to increase employee understanding of the company, products, ethics, culture, and external environment, showing that the managers are not hiding information. This builds trust and fosters open communication. In order to facilitate information sharing, the company must utilize various ways of mentoring. Level mentoring should be skipped so that employees get an opportunity to meet with someone above the direct management. Reverse mentoring will be also instilled in the company as the younger person might have some fresh ideas and new tools.
Sometimes, a new set of ideas might be the solution to a lingering issue in the company. Training sessions are organized by putting the management and employees on the same teams. Likewise, large group information sessions are implemented to talk about issues related to employees with management information similar to Merck’s communication meetings that are held three times a year. These meetings will have the full support of upper management and are used to open communication, improve the flow of information among all levels of management and to provide employees with information they need to do their jobs better.
There could also be an improvement in information sharing by having no doors on offices or no physical barriers between management and lower level employees. Honda and Harley Davidson have an open door policy as described in Built to Change (p. 9). The company should clearly define fair policies and procedures. This will help the employees to know what is expected of them. If employees know what the company expects, it is easier for them to be accountable for their own behavior and contribute accordingly.
Clear guidelines for professional conduct will be established by the company so that co-workers treat each other with respect regardless of their position in the company. Also, a process of performance review system will be implemented to ensure the employees are promoting the company’s value structure. A 360 degree review process will be utilized by the company which will help to provide on-going feedbacks to all the employees. This will enable all the subordinates, peers and supervisors to have their input towards the company.
This will also help to assess all employees on a continual basis on how they are performing to business needs as well as adapting to the values of the company. The results from these reviews can be used to make administrative decisions as well as to plan for training and development in the future. The company should also not sway from their core values no matter what, as described in Built to Change (p. 4) in the Southwest Airlines example. This will enable the employees to stay loyal and feel comfortable knowing that their jobs are stable.
Finally, the company will provide proper benefits to the employees including fair pay based on individual performance, team performance and seniority so that the employees feel valued. A proper organic organization structure will be designed to empower people and allowing them to make their own decisions. This will make the employees accountable with their decisions. A flatter organization structure will be designed in order to enable employees to speak freely to higher levels of management for advice. This will also enhance the mentoring process and help to build effective relationships.
After assessing the culture and gathering input, the company should identify the system, policies and procedures that must be either changed or implemented to support the new culture. The new infrastructure should address role expectations, accountability, rewards and selection systems. The company will also have defined job descriptions and encourage people to switch departments so that employees won’t feel pigeon-holed. In other words, the company will also allow mobility within the organization in order to get the most out of their employees and employees will be more flexible.
The employees should also understand other roles and jobs in the company to be able to relate to them and provide input for improvements. The company will focus more on team based design that will eventually help to elevate individual performance in the company. Individuals in the company will be cross trained or conditioned in order to improve the overall performance of the whole team. Although the word “team” is heavily used in the industry today, teams often play a major role in initiating organizational change.
A cross functional team design will create mutual accountability for results and joint ownerships of work products. Above all, a properly designed organic organization structure will positively impact the ability to focus, directly affects the communication channels and empowers people by giving the employees a drive to make their own decisions. Question 3: While designing and implementing an effective, company-wide communication structure is vitally important, the activities performed by leaders at all levels are paramount to sustaining an effective communication culture.
Managers are the face of your company’s culture and their interactions with their direct reports will be the frontlines of the company’s culture battles. Beginning with the hiring process, managers must be mindful that they are not only assessing the potential hire’s technical skills and abilities, but also their fit within the culture. They must abide by and practice recruiting and hiring techniques that will reasonably ensure that the company is hiring candidates that will express the desired behavior and align with the culture.
These techniques could include maintaining relationships with contacts at local universities and recruiting firms. If these contacts are familiar with your company and culture they could aid in providing a stream of potential new hires and would be able to “pre-screen” for cultural fit. Mangers should openly discuss the company’s culture and ask explicit questions regarding how the potential hire feels he/she will fit within the culture. This will set cultural expectations of open and candid communication with all interviewees long before any are hired.
Also, managers should use behavioral type interview questions to test the candidate’s attitudes, trust and ability to speak freely. Additionally, the interviews should be conducted by employees of varying levels of the company, both managers and non-mangers, with a single manager soliciting feedback from all other interviewers regarding their assessment of the recruit. Once potential employees are deemed to be a cultural fit and are hired it is important to continue the initiation process into the culture.
Managers need to immediately begin teaching new employees about the open communication culture and submerging them in it. The Container Store, for example, submits all new hires to a weeklong orientation in which they are taught the inner workings and philosophy of the company (FoE, pg. 75). Socialization techniques can be utilized to build the relationships between the new and established employees, understanding that well socialized employees are more likely to share information freely.
Managers can organize gatherings of new and current employees to introduce the new hires to their co-workers. Examples would be ice cream or pizza socials in which ice-breaker type games are used to introduce and socialize new hires to their peers. Mangers can also take new hires to lunch with a small group of their fellow employees in an effort to socialize the new employee in an environment outside the workplace. An emphasis should be made at these types of gatherings to learn about the employee’s life outside of the work environment.
Other practices like a mentoring or buddy system could also be utilized to engage the new employee in an open communication culture. The focus of these activities should be to build trust and a sense of value within the new hire. Employees that perceive themselves as being valued and have strong trust relationships with their direct reports and co-workers are more likely to give of themselves, that is, to invest their “heads and hearts” with your company. While recruiting and initiating new hires into the culture is vital, most of a leader’s time will be spent maintaining the open communication culture.
These tasks can be broken down into activities that build relationships, empower employees and provide reviews and feedback. Mangers should spend a considerable amount of time getting to know and nurture relationships with their direct reports. Leaders should adopt a Management by Wondering Around system where managers spend time with employees getting to know what they are doing, how they are doing it, what kind of problems they are facing, and what help is required to solve the problems (Dynamic Business Strategy, info from Vick).
This type of communication should be seen as an integral part of managing people, not as an additional burden to a manager’s already busy schedule. An open-door policy should be utilized so that managers are available to their employees as much as possible. Leaders should also maintain a database of employee birthdays and employment anniversaries and recognize these occasions with cards and/or gifts. Management could also hold monthly get-togethers to celebrate the birthdays, anniversaries and milestones that occurred that month.
Managers should be encouraged to spend time with their direct reports outside the work environment. Informal gatherings like lunches and happy hours could be utilized to get to know direct reports on a more personal level. Managers should hold occasional casual days in which employees are allowed to wear themed casual attire like university t-shirts to kick off football season or Hawaiian shirts at the start of summer. Additionally, leaders could send out daily or weekly e-mails informing employees of what is going on around the company.