4 Steps to Making Crucial Conversations Part of Your Organisation’s Culture

When developing or revising your organisational culture an important component is to give all employees the authority to speak-up and hold others accountable. These vital business behaviours can be learnt and become an organisational norm, says Helene Vermaak, Business Director at corporate culture experts, The Human Edge.

“When introducing these behaviours into the company culture there is a profound positive knock-on effect across all performance aspects of the organisation.” So, how do you create this culture and encourage crucial conversations in your organisation?

1. The first step is to build a compelling business case. Work with your senior leaders to identify a tangible goal that is undeniable and irresistible. A priority to them that is important enough to demand at least 20 percent of their time. The link between “speaking up” and achieving the goal should be clear.

Some examples of business cases that The Human Edge and their US partner, VitalSmarts, have implemented for clients are:

o Hospital: Achieve hand hygiene compliance of 95% or better. Employees had to speak-up whenever they saw a colleague fail to wash their hands, despite their or the colleague’s position.

o Factory: Manage capacity and resource constraints in a way that prevents any delays in deliveries to customers. Employees had to speak-up whenever they saw a situation that could put a customer delivery at risk.

o Mine: Eliminate accidents that cause serious injuries and deaths. Employees must speak-up whenever they see unsafe behaviour or an unsafe situation.

2. Socialise the business case. Sometimes the business case is obvious. But usually it’s important to have leaders discuss the case with the company opinion leaders. Some of the questions leaders should ask to facilitate conversations:

o Our brand: What are we known for? Why do customers come to us, instead of to our competition? What kinds of failures would put our brand or reputation at risk?

o Our environment: What threats and opportunities does the organisation face? What changes in the environment do we need to master?

o Our ability to execute: What are our organisation’s strengths and weaknesses?

3. Ask leaders to lead. It’s tempting for leaders to delegate initiatives to skilled support functions, such as Human Resources. But customs are set from the top, so leaders need to be actively involved. Below are three actions leaders should take:

o Involve both formal and informal leaders. Senior leaders must influence through others. In particular, they need the understanding, commitment and buy in from formal leaders and informal leaders. Formal leaders include anyone with supervisory responsibilities and informal leaders include opinion leaders, employees who may not have any formal authority, but have the trust and respect of their peers.

o Develop an accountability system that keeps the pressure on. Senior leaders must hold themselves accountable for results.

o Build motivation and ability within the business structure. Leaders need to lead the influence efforts. They need to facilitate the discussions that explain the business case and to lead any training that’s involved. These investments of time and prestige will convince others of the priority of speaking up.

4. Combine all Six Sources of Influence™. The Six Sources of Influence are listed below, what is important to note is that initiatives that combine four or more (preferably all six) Sources of Influence are ten times more likely to succeed.

· Personal Motivation: Will – is speaking up seen as a moral imperative?

· Personal Ability: Skill – do employees have the skills to speak-up in the toughest situations?

· Social Motivation: Encouragement – do managers and peers ask and encourage employees to speak-up?

· Social Ability: Support – do managers and peers support employees when they try to speak-up?

· Structural Motivation: Incentives – does speaking up affect performance reviews, promotions, pay, etc.?

· Structural Ability: Tools – do employees have the opportunities, cues, and other tools they require to be able to speak-up?