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Best Companies Live: The importance of conversation

Our workplace environments are growing ever more virtual, digital, and artificial, and so the importance of conversation between employees and their managers shouldn’t be undervalued.

For senior leaders and managers, ensuring consistent communication with their direct reports is essential for team engagement and satisfaction. This is important because being a manager isn’t just about setting goals for their people and ensuring those goals are met, it’s about creating a culture of communication and identifying the impact having an open conversation environment has on overall employee engagement and the relationship between staff and their managers.

However, it’s not as simple as managers just drip-feeding information down the chain of command; creating a culture of conversation using multiple platforms - and two-way lines of communication - is essential to developing those strong relationships and engaged employees.

Our MC³ model identifies that the most effective managers open the channels for effective two-way communication, sharing information in an open and honest way and being open to receiving information from others.

Understanding how managers inform and listen can help us to evaluate how well a manager is able to communicate. We do this by posing specific statements in our b-Heard Employee Engagement and manager insights (MC³) surveys.

For Informing, the survey statements include: ‘I feel that my manager talks openly and honestly with me’ and ‘My manager shares important information with me’. For Listening, we use: ‘My manager does a lot of telling but not much listening’ and ‘I feel I can tell my manager when work is going badly’.

For the full session, watch the video:

So, how can a company ensure its managers are communicating effectively with their employees? And how are managers maintaining conversations with employees in remote or hybrid working roles? These are the questions we asked to our Red Chair panellists at Best Companies Live on 19th May 2023.

In this article, we will explore the key takeaways and best practices shared during the Importance of Listening insight sessions.

Discussion 1: Informing

‘I feel that my manager talks openly and honestly with me’

Yemi Olagbaiye, Client Director at Softwire identified the importance of open conversation due to an increase in trust from employees to their managers when clearer communication practices were introduced. Yemi stated, "We've always wanted to be a very open and transparent organisation. So, letting everyone in the organisation know what the direction of the company is - and why - is important. And it's a two-way thing, there's the talking side of it, where staff can see your vision, but also that having that feedback loop when you listen to your team".

A culture where clear communication is the bedrock of the organisation allows for strategies and operations to thrive. Softwire has taken this approach into its stride and consistently scores highly in their engagement surveys to reflect this.

‘My manager shares important information with me’

A similar statement, but with important distinctions, staff want to feel part of ‘the team’. Jo Fry, Client Director of Mears Group started us off with this insight, “When the pandemic hit, we realised that communication was absolutely key. We wanted to ensure that staff were informed and motivated, so we introduced a briefing - informing staff of all key messages as well as acknowledging key achievements. We now hold these briefings bi-monthly".

Jo and her colleagues quickly identified that when a company is thrown into such a disruptive situation as the Covid pandemic, it relies on clear communication. We are fortunate to live in an age where technology allows us to have conversations – and often work – entirely remotely but using this efficiently takes dedication and organisation. Adapting to changes is what keeps a company evolving, and communicating these adaptations can help a company to flourish.

Supporting Jo’s statement was Phil Vickers, Director of HR at Charles Tyrwhitt, who discussed the importance of the company’s comms platform, “The LINK is the cornerstone of our engagement strategy. The company is spread from Texas to Paris, so across that dynamic there’s a number of people to keep in contact with. We built The LINK as a one-stop shop for everything that someone could need to know. From policies, procedures, and benefits, all the way to job vacancies".

Employees feel like more valued members of the business when they are ‘in the loop’. Having information and resources shared with them means a company’s people are more emotionally invested, motivated, and able to do their jobs effectively. It’s a win-win.

Discussion 2: Listening

‘My manager does a lot of telling but not much listening’

Jonathan Austin, Founder and CEO of Best Companies, kicked off the session with this insight, "Communication is key, but to do it well is not so easy… if you have an organisation that's not really listening to its people from a senior level, and equally from a management level, you're going to have low levels of engagement".

As the saying goes, ‘communication is key’, and, as the data shows, so is engagement. These two concepts go hand in hand, there may be a hierarchal system at most organisations, but the culture of a business is its most important foundation – an engaged employee that feels listened to will work harder, speak more openly, and want to remain in their role much more than an unengaged one.

On this discussion, Yemi Olagbaiye, of Softwire added, "We introduced this idea of an MD Q&A, and that concept of a 'Q' and 'A' allows a feedback loop where the MD is giving out information company-wide but also can be given opinions, advice, and suggestions. People have lots more to give than just the minutiae of what their day job is".

Two-way lines of communication within a company culture demonstrate to employees that their opinions matter. Softwire has identified this and there’s no mystery as to why their employees want to remain there. The business consistently scores highly in the ‘My Team’ and ‘Personal Growth’ workplace factors, and while these aren’t direct links to managers listening to their employees, it’s indicative of the tight-knit and compassionate culture that Softwire has cultivated.

‘I feel I can tell my manager when work is going badly’

Feeling listened to by your managers is obviously a valued quality within an organisation. Having an open line of communication with a company’s management team so staff can talk about difficult subjects is something that many businesses have not yet achieved, with many employees across the UK not feeling comfortable enough to tell their manager that they are struggling with work.

Creating a culture where staff feel empowered and safe enough to tell their manager that their work is going badly is a practice, we would love to see in every business nationwide. On this, Caroline Oxley, Director of HR at Property Hub said, “We recruit based on our value of listening. One thing we do to reassure our people is that we don’t just listen to them, we believe them. If a member of staff is telling us they’re particularly worried about a particular project or if they have anxiety about a social event, we believe them, and ask how we can support them with this particular issue”.

Treating employees as people first may seem obvious to some, but it’s not as commonplace as you would think. Thankfully, we are moving away from the days of employees being addressed by their payroll number – and good riddance!” Caroline identified and demonstrated how not only taking the time to listen to your employee’s concerns but to believe them and take actions directly from those discussions is an example many organisations can learn from.

Jonathan’s word…

“You’ve got to create the right environment to be able to have the confidence in your manager that they’re going to listen to you if you’re struggling, and it won’t be a sign of weakness from you (the employee). It’s OK to not be OK, and ultimately creating the relationship where you can say that to your manager often means you can avert potential disasters because the manager knows that person needs support…

In these terms of anxiousness, we’ve got to keep communicating. And it works both ways, the biggest gap we’ve seen is what we talked about earlier; you’ve got to create the relationship and cultures with managers so that you can tell managers when work is going badly. And if you do create that culture, we’re going to have a better organisation”.

What next?

As our panellists discussed, ensuring that managers are able to communicate effectively with their team through informing and listening is vital to improving an organisation’s employee engagement, and therefore also its success.

Informing and Listening are just two of the sub-elements that make up the MC³ model, however, and it is important to recognise that focusing on these two sub-elements alone will not be enough to create world-class managers in your organisation.

If your managers earn above 600 in their manager insights survey, they will earn either a One to Watch (Good), 1-Star (Very Good), 2-Star (Outstanding), or 3-Star (World Class) Accreditation.

The main benefits of the manager insights survey are:

• There are many skills required for effective people management, we help focus where your managers are getting it right and where there’s room for improvement.

• 70% of employees leave their managers, not the organisation - identify the qualities of your managers and create an environment with strong employee-management relationships.

• Employees with a good relationship with their manager are 2.7 times more likely to stay at their company.

• An official manager accreditation.

To find out more about how you can help your management team to become Good (Ones to Watch), Very Good (1-Star), Outstanding (2-Star), or World-Class (3-Star), visit our MC³ page and request a demo today.

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