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Across the Great (Virtual) Divide

For the geography buffs that read The Armchair HR Manager, (there are some right?) you are about to be disappointed. This post is not about the Rocky Mountains or the Oregon Trail. I am referring to that great virtual divide you often see or hear about between the highest levels of management in an organization and the front line employees. Typically, this divide exists for a variety of reasons – too many “layers” between staff and Sr. Leadership, no visibility to/from Sr. Leadership amongst its employees, lack of vision/direction from the Sr. team or simply a lack of overall communication or even worse, 1-way “communication.”

I have seen and heard about far too many organizations that still subscribe to the theory of, “workers work, managers manage and leaders lead.” (Of course the definition of ‘lead’ in this context is very much up for debate.) These command and control style organizations seem to actually be comfortable with the virtual divide that exists between themselves and their front line staff. Whether this is because the divide creates a sense of comfort for them (i.e. the workers will follow when the message comes down from above) and/or they think that it might show some type of vulnerability by being this close to staff, I am not sure. All I know is that your staff are very much aware of the divide and the smaller the organization (in size) the greater the virtual divide is felt.

CanyonI have commented in other posts about the need for greater Sr. Leadership visibility in terms of improved retention and engagement, and I have also blogged about Sr. Leadership needing to share its vision in order to align and engage staff. I have also blogged about the importance of general communication; however, what I have not commented on is the damaging effects that be created by a virtual divide when there is only one-way communication taking place. Meaning, either Sr. Leadership pushes messages down but doesn’t listen for a response back up, or things are pushed up from staff at a grassroots level to Sr. Management but nothing comes back down the funnel. What you typically see is that your staff shares their opinions and thoughts via surveys, they partake in continuous improvement initiatives and they engage in work groups to resolve organizational issues; however nothing comes back to them in the form of communication. No feedback that identifies which of their suggestions and improvement initiatives will be implemented or even considered. All the while, the divide gets wider.

This is a very damaging management practice as it basically tells your staff that you are just going through the motions and not really considering their input. You know, do as I say not do as I do. The real damage is the hidden damage – low morale, disengaged staff who used to care but now just go through the motions themselves (mimicking what they themselves perceive to be the behaviour that Sr. Leadership is exhibiting. So what can be done? It starts with two-way dialogue. Your management team has to engage in communication with its employees to shrink this divide. The important question for HR Leaders is what can they do to drive organizational change in this area? For starters:

• Work with your CEO to have her/him lead a town hall meeting to re-engage and re-energize staff or;
• Attend department meetings to answer questions, share the organizational vision, etc.
• Work with dept. heads to share success stories with the CEO so she/he can personally congratulate individuals on their accomplishments.
• Improve your organizational leader’s social media savvy by having her/him maintain a blog that shares their vision and insight on organizational direction.
• Coach your organizational leader on holding her/his team accountable for ensuring these types of behaviours are repeated by the entire Management Team.
• Partner with the Sr. Leadership team to ensure that when employee input is asked for – it is responded to. Your staff knows that not everything is going to be greeted with a YES, or implement now response – what they want to know is that you are listening and considering their input. If something can be done – great! If not, just tell them why, they will grasp the reason(s) why not.

HR is at a stage in its evolution when we can affect this type of change in our roles. We hear all the time about need to have a seat at the table (kill that one), being a business partner, (overused) and wanting to add value (heard enough of that); so here is one way where we can lead the charge. Let’s help our Sr. Leaders cross that great (virtual) divide. What do you think? Can it be done? Should HR be the one giving the “push?” As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of puttsk/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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