If there was one simple answer to how to improve your culture, what would it be?


I could end the article now as I’m guessing you know what I mean, but I’m told one-word articles don’t have enough impact!

As I reflect on my last 27 years as an HR Business Partner, I can put all of the feedback, suggestions and ideas I have used in every business and industry I’ve worked into a funnel, and out from the end of that funnel comes one word – communication.  Think about it.  As an HRBP or CEO, you have likely met multiple times and spoke about the importance of some or all of the following:

    • Performance feedback/reviews
    • Engagement surveys
    • Round tables
    • Town halls
    • Recognition programs
    • Conducting 1×1’s
    • Timely team meetings (be it daily huddles, weekly meeting, monthly reviews, etc..)
    • Update emails to the organization perhaps at year end or in challenging times
    • Progressive discipline
    • Training and development
    • Lunch & learns
    • Etc…

All of these have one common denominator – communication.   If I was given a magic wand to solve any organization’s people challenges but was told I only had one strategy to use, without a doubt I’d focus on improving communication.  I’ve never met an organization that communicates too much or too often.  I don’t believe there is such a thing as too much communication.

The most impactful areas to focus on in an effort to improve communication are:

    • 1×1’s – ensure every manager (right up to the CEO) conducts, at minimum, bi-weekly 1×1’s with each of their direct reports. I always tell my employees that this time slot (usually one hour) is their undivided time with me so they set the agenda.  I prefer it not be a debrief of what they are working on but rather a coaching/mentoring opportunity for them to bring challenges or concerns and we talk through ways to manage them.
    • Town Halls – I like to see a quarterly cadence wherein the leaders of the organization stand up in front of all employees and provide updates on the overall business and the key priorities for that quarter. Notice I said leaders and not leader?  The CEO definitely should be the featured act, however, giving exposure to the other members of the leadership team and even beyond that, to employees that have lead a key project, or are looking for some public speaking experience, or you are grooming to be a leader, are great to profile during these town halls.  For businesses that can’t gather all employees live at the same time, then simply record each town hall and distribute to employees or remote locations to make available for viewing.
    • As I’ve learned through Lean Six Sigma or Continuous Improvement practices, brief huddles (15-30 minutes) daily with employees from every function is a great way to have everyone marching to the same beat and focused on the most relevant imminent tasks. This keeps everyone informed, brings them together on a regular basis, and often builds better camaraderie and communication between departments.
    • Announcing new hires – I’m a huge fan of announcing all new hires, regardless of department, title, etc. I ask for a photo in advance of them starting (obtain permission to distribute of course) as well as a few sentences that describes the new hire personally (e.g. family, interests, hobbies, etc.) that they would be comfortable sharing.  We’ll take care of the relevant work experience portion of the announcement.  The new employee feels very welcomed and special, and existing employees know who to have a look out for on their first day.
    • Announcing terminations – contentious I know! In every organization there is great debate around this one.  Since transparency is so important to me and is a foundation of trust, I am a firm believer that organizations should announce when someone has left, regardless of the reason.  You don’t have to announce the reason if it’s not appropriate, but too often we become victim of the rumor mill or even worse creating productivity issues when someone leaves the organization and we failed to communicate it.  I believe you can never go wrong with transparency but you can if you hide or avoid sharing relevant information, such as departures.
    • Be present – instead of sending a text or an email, consider picking up the phone, or even better, walk over to the person you want to talk to. Too often we are caught behind our phones and computers and the face to face communication has become much less prevalent.  Find time every day to walk the office, facility, store or wherever the bulk of your employees are and say hello.  Too often employees keeping the company running every day don’t even know who the senior leaders are much less ever talk to them.  This may require some effort to schedule time in your calendar if it’s not natural for you to do, but trust me, 30 minutes of this a day will significantly improve communication flow as well as what employees communicate about you.

Communication – critical for engagement, easy to do, transparency is critical, often is not often enough, and to quote George Bernard Shaw, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”.

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