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Can we talk? The key to a productive management pattern.

The Key To A Productive Management Pattern

I always remember the way an employee described to me her boss's management style. "It was one of two things: either I got a lecture or I got the silent treatment."

All too often managers and supervisors employ only one-way communication with their employees. They become so concerned with their own agenda and the paperwork (e.g., Performance Review form) that needs to be processed, they ignore the resource sitting right across the desk from them! They have failed to master the art of listening. They have failed to tap the most valuable key to success within their company: the employees themselves ! LETS'S TALK is the communications program we've designed to help managers break those ancient patterns and to adopt new, productive ones. LET'S TALK provides employers with a structure for initial and ongoing dialogue with their employees. It stresses face-to-face talks between the supervisor and the individual employee.

Relationships 101

The purpose behind LET'S TALK is to help a company develop strong, mutually supportive relationships with it's employees. This will create an environment in which a supervisor and employee can talk freely, grow to understand one another and what each expects of the other, and how they can perform their job most effectively. When employees are treated with respect, when management not only solicits their opinions but responds to them, this creates an environment of trust and openness.

When you think about it, this is the basis of all sound interpersonal relationships. And when that level of cooperation and respect exists between supervisors and employees, it spells success for a company's human resource program.

Come In - it's Not Locked ! LET'S TALK helps create an open-door environment within companies - an environ where employees feel they can express themselves freely without fear of repercussions. By soliciting their opinions and suggestions, employees feel they "belong," that they matter, and that their employer recognizes and values their particular contribution. In such an environment there is no need for third-party intervention. When the employee knows his/her grievances and opinions are being listened to, the prospect of a union poses no threat. LET'S TALK is a distinct sign that a company wants to treat its employees well and serves as clear evidence of a company's good intentions to remain union-free. This is Positive Employee Relations in action.

But How Does it Work?

The initial phase of LET'S TALK is a private discussion between a supervisor and individual employees using our proven techniques so that the conversation is beneficial to both parties. LET'S TALK works on a 12-week cycle. Four discussions are held three months apart over the year.

It is important to have a one-on-one communication process that is well documented. LET'S TALK has a simple and manageable paper system to ensure this occurs. Our program provides an Agenda in a choice of two formats. For example, an employee might be asked, "How can we make your work more interesting? What do you see as the most important responsibilities of your job? Did you receive adequate training?" Designed to stimulate discussion, the Agenda format lets the employee select the discussion topics from groups of subjects and also to add his/her own specific subjects to the Agenda. The employee is given ample time to complete the Agenda prior to the interview. This is, after all, the employee's interview.

The Follow-Through

Follow-up action on these discussions is crucial to the success of LET'S TALK. One or two private discussions between an employee and his/her supervisor does not a communications program make! That's why our program includes what we call our dual-focused "Action Planner." Firstly, our Action Planner helps you organize a list of follow-up action steps as determined by you and the employee during the interview. It lists items for follow-up, who will complete them and when.

The second and crucial extension of the Action Planner is the Action Contacts. These are your ongoing, informal on-the-job contacts with each employee (Management By Walking Around in Action). These brief talks provide a format for continuing dialogue with the employee, help you to get to know one another and to cement a healthy, long-term relationship.

Roll Camera

Our LET'S TALK program also offers supervisors a two-day video-tape-based workshop which we conduct off-site. Using videotape and a variety of role plays based on actual company situations, participants have the opportunity to see themselves as the employee does, learn firsthand how they can improve their communication skills and then try out what they've learned.

Next, we review the videotape and solicit feedback on the supervisor's communications from fellow participants. Using an evaluation guide and a sliding rating scale, assess each other's performance. Supervisors gradually learn the value of listening, and how to build the discussion step by step based on what the employee is saying.

Some common reactions from supervisors first seeing themselves on video, are: "I seem so nervous!" or "I talk too much," or "Why don't I ever listen?" After two days of these exercises, the improvements we see are dramatic. Nervousness subsides; supervisors learn what questions are appropriate to ask; they learn how to probe, how not to be overbearing, and most importantly, how to actively listen.

At the end of the workshop, the videotape is given to the participants. When a supervisor is ready to begin this communications process within his organization, he can replay it and brush up on the LET'S TALK interpersonal techniques.

Top Down

To truly work long-term, the principles of your communications program must be forged at the top and be blessed at the top.

The skill of listening can easily become atrophied. Two-way discussions often require that we develop a whole new mindset and set of listening skills. For your company's communications to be truly effective, all supervisors and managers from the top down have to be trained to listen and to probe for information.

Learn to listen to your employees. It sounds simple. But the payoff will astound you. As discussed in our book Unions Are Not Inevitable!, effective employee communications programs are critical to maintaining a company's union-free status.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Canadian Institute of Management
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Field, Lloyd M.; Knowles, Linda L.
Publication:Canadian Manager
Date:Mar 1, 1989
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