Creating a culture of conversations in the workplace

The key to productive workplace culture is more conversations, according to thought leadership speaker and author Dr Tim Baker.

Organisations are fundamentally a collection of people all working towards a similar strategic goal. This involves thousands of conversations throughout the course of the day.

But that poses the question - are those conversations effective? Are people having the conversations they need to?

The nine barriers to conversations

Dr Baker outlines nine barriers to effective conversations, which are present in almost every workplace.

1. Inattention during conversations
Otherwise known as multitasking, this is one of the most common barriers to conversations in the workplace and stems from excuses of being too ‘time poor’ to stop for a conversation.

2. Restricted information channels
This refers to only communicating information on a need to know basis, as is most commonly present in manager-employee relationships. However, restricting information prevents vital conversations from happening.

3. Lack of feedback
Employees and managers alike should always receive feedback in order to improve and grow. Likewise, feedback should be a two-way conversation, with an opportunity for discussion.

4. A culture of not asking questions
Asking questions is key to starting conversations.

5. Too much formality
Only conversing in structured situations like a meeting room or your boss’ office can place too much formality on the tone of your conversations. Make an effort to take certain conversations outside the office, grab a coffee or go to the park.

6. Over-reliance on email
Email often doesn’t offer the same opportunity for open conversation as speaking face to face. While email has a place in the workplace, it shouldn’t be relied on as your avenue to conversation.

7. Lack of role models
A culture of conversation starts at the top, and it can be extremely challenging to change culture without executive buy-in.

8. Fear of emotion
People tend to avoid conversations because they’re afraid of an emotional reaction, but you’ll often find the fear is worse than the reality.

9. Physical office layout
Physical barriers like offices or protective secretaries can be a barrier to important conversations. The shift from an office layout to open plan has certainly gone a ways to encouraging more conversations. However, these conversations can become less meaningful as the open layout restricts discussion about anything personal or sensitive.

How can we overcome these barriers?

Organisations should introduce frameworks or steps to overcoming these barriers. While anything too structured may impede open conversation, organisations must come up with a plan for influencing change.

TechnologyOne for example, has introduced regular ‘Check-in’ meetings to replace its annual performance appraisals, says TechnologyOne Human Resources Director Kathy Carr.

“As an organisation we’re committed to providing a culture of open conversations that allow us to continually challenge ourselves to deliver great results,” says Ms Carr.

“The concept of Check-ins replaces annual performance appraisals and occurs more often and at logical times throughout the year.

“Check-ins are an opportunity for employees to set ambitious job goals, discuss how they are performing, talk through development needs and build on their career aspirations at TechnologyOne. Check-ins are designed to ensure that our people receive regular feedback throughout the year.”

Supporting this introduction of ‘Check-ins’ is the company’s development of its new talent management software, which is part of TechnologyOne’s Human Resource and Payroll (HRP) solution and will allow managers to document information from each Check-in, so it is easily referenceable for both the employee and manager.

“Introducing Check-ins is a great initiative for us as an organisation,” Ms Carr said.

“We’re using our own experiences to drive the functionality of the software. By using our software internally, we will be able to work through the speed bumps and speak from experience when recommending it to our customers. There are a number of other organisations trialling a similar concept and we will be sharing our knowledge and feedback to improve as we go forward.

“We always want to be at the forefront of technology and drive the culture in our organisation, and we’re really excited by the prospects our new Check-ins process offers us.”

Kick-starting conversations

Dr Baker recommends leaning on these five key frameworks to kick-start conversations during regular Check-ins:

  • Coaching - intentional ongoing development
  • Mentoring - informal day-to-day sharing
  • Delegating - it’s about your development too, and should be a two-way conversation
  • Visioning - sharing and sustaining the ‘why’ provides valuable context to your job
  • Encouraging - ensuring people feel significant

- Ends -

About Kathy Carr Kathy Carr is TechnologyOne’s HR Director, responsible for people and culture at TechnologyOne, and is an experienced HR professional. For over 20 years she has worked in large corporate environments leading teams of HR professionals and advising executives about people and culture. She has strong interests in talent management, leadership development and creating great workplace cultures.

About Dr Tim Baker Dr Tim Baker was voted as one of the 50 Most Talented Training and Development Leaders by the World HRD Congress in 2013. In 2015 he was nominated for Thinkers 50, which identifies the 50 most influential management thinkers in the world. He is the author of six books, including his latest: Conversations at Work. He has been a Council Member of QUT since 2010.

About TechnologyOne
TechnologyOne (ASX:TNE) is Australia's largest enterprise software company and one of Australia's top 200 ASX-listed companies, with offices across six countries. We create solutions that transform business and make life simple for our customers. We do this by providing powerful, deeply integrated enterprise software that is incredibly easy to use. Over 1,000 leading corporations, government departments and statutory authorities are powered by our software.

We participate in only eight key markets: government, local government, financial services, education, health and community services, asset intensive industries, project intensive industries and corporates. For these markets we develop, market, sell, implement, support and run our preconfigured solutions, which reduce time, cost and risk for our customers.

For 28 years, we have been providing our customers enterprise software that evolves and adapts to new and emerging technologies, allowing them to focus on their business and not technology. Today, our software is available on the TechnologyOne Cloud and across smart mobile devices.

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