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The Communication Foundation

The most popular post of all time here on The Armchair HR Manager is my one on “The Art of the Skip Level Meeting.” It is by far and away, the most read and shared post I have ever written. It is so far in front of #2 and #3 it isn’t even funny. I have always wondered why this was, so in order to find out, I decided to engage a bit more with some of my readership that have commented and emailed me in the past. Bottom, line it doesn’t matter whether you work in HR or not, or for a public or private company or for a small local firm or a global conglomerate, communication is an issue EVERYWHERE.

At the end of the day, skip level meetings are needed based on the need for more communication. It isn’t always negative, as skip levels are used to enhance communication, build trust and align staff. All of which brings me to my point of this post. As leaders, we always need to be looking for ways to build upon the communication foundation. Like building a good house, your management practice needs to be built on a solid foundation of communication. In my career, I have always tried to make note of leaders that I have seen exhibiting behaviours that contribute towards establishing proactive communication channels. As such, I wanted to share an example of that with you.

FoundationOne of the best examples of this came from an operations manager I worked with many years ago at a call centre. When Greg (not his real name of course) first started working with us, I thought he was a bit unconventional to say the least – in terms of things he did, said and how he approached employee relations issues. I made it a point to observe his behaviours a bit more before I formulated a real opinion of him. One of the quirkiest things I observed from him (or it seemed quirky at the time) was that during the late afternoons on many days he would appear to be aimlessly walking around the call centre floor drinking coffee. This increased exponentially on Fridays, where it seemed pretty much any time after 1pm, he would spend the better part of 4-5 hours walking around the call centre floor, drinking coffee and sitting down with his feet up and engaging in casual chat with call centre reps. I thought, “Man, this has got to be the laziest call centre manager I have ever seen…what a slacker!”

Perhaps the younger me would have actually said that to him or his boss; however, the (slightly) wiser me decided to dig a bit deeper. I took a look at his teams stats’ – handle time, first call resolution, absenteeism and attrition. They were by far and away some of the best in our entire centre. By now my curiosity had peaked. I started to make it a point to have to “see” Greg about things on Friday afternoons. Sometimes I needed to “discuss” an employee’s attendance, or talk about a particular committee, or something. I tried doing this as he was walking around the floor to see if I could get to the bottom of what was going on.

After a few Friday’s of this, I wasn’t all that much ahead in my detective work, other than to realize that employees tended to approach Greg a lot to talk to him – sometimes about very casual things, but sometimes about work. As the Friday’s went by and I spent more time walking with Greg (checking up on him I guess) more and more of our hundreds of employees got to know me better as well. As weeks went by, I would find myself engaging in similar (sometimes casual) conversations with these reps.

It finally hit me; Greg was a freaking genius! (Apparently I am not). This guy was investing time in building trust and establishing relationships and fostering communication. He was laying the foundation. I started to hang out in his cube/office more to come to find out that his staff came to him on a regular basis. He knew EVERYTHING that was going on with his teams. He knew what they were happy about, mad about, why people were missing time, what the key client issues were, etc. and he didn’t even have to ASK. His people told him everything because he had laid down a foundation built on communication. He was visible to his staff, so when he came to talk to them about things (at first) it was always casual and not about work, and he became seen as being non-threatening. Greg became my model for how to build the proper managerial communication foundation.

In case you are wondering, no, Greg wasn’t a perfect manager (who is?) He overvalued the wrong competencies and characteristics in some people. He was stubborn to a fault about many of his “convictions” when it came to work. But darn it, that guy could build trust and rapport with staff and he could communicate. And you know what, sometimes you just can’t teach that stuff. So now Greg is my “go to” story for managers, especially newer ones, on how they should be building the foundation of communication. I also encourage managers to take advantage of “casual” Fridays, not so much in terms of dress code, but in how you interact with your staff on Friday’s, or any other day of the week that ends with the letter “Y”. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of scottchan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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