The ability to engage in real dialogue opens up channels for trusting, coaching effectively, exchanging knowledge, learning, engaging others and welcoming change – and there are an important number of business benefits in the process, writes Dave Hanna

How well do people at different levels and in different parts of your company trust one other? Are they all on the same page? Are they clear about what needs to be done and how each of them should collaborate to reach the desired results?

Or are they more like Carl and his hierarchy in this example: Carl, a top plant manager, once asked me, “Do the leaders at the top have any idea how their latest decision has caused problems in my plant?”

“Probably not,” was my reply.

Shrugging his shoulders in exasperation, he said, “I didn’t think so!”

Then I asked, “Carl, do you have any idea what issues led them to choose this decision?”

Somewhat sheepishly, Carl said, “No.”

This is no isolated experience in our modern global marketplace. People in different corners of the organisation trying to improve things, sometimes being critical of others’ actions that they don’t understand, and not knowing how to put the pieces together.

Indeed, getting everyone in the organisation on the same page–and moving forward as one team–is a difficult test of leadership.

Building trust
The first step to getting everyone on the same page is to strengthen trust in each other. Global research by Gallup found that, compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report: 74 per cent less stress, 106 per cent more energy at work, 50 per cent higher productivity, 13 per cent fewer sick days, 76 per cent more engagement, 29 per cent more satisfaction with their lives, and 40 per cent less burnout.

“Getting everyone in the organisation on the same page–and moving forward as one team–is a difficult test of leadership”

And, in its 2016 global CEO survey, PwC reported that 55 per cent of CEOs think a lack of trust is a threat to their organisation’s growth. But most have done little to increase trust, mainly because they aren’t sure where to start.

Some important clues about strengthening trust have emerged from Professor André de Waal’s global research on what make a high-performance organisation. Among the factors that correlated with superior business results were these leadership attributes:

  • Managers are trusted by organisational members.
  • Managers coach organisational members to achieve better results.
  • Managers frequently engage in a dialogue with employees.
  • Organisational members spend much time on communication, knowledge exchange, and
  • Organisational members are always involved in important processes.
  • Managers welcome change.

I have seen how the ability to engage in real dialogue opens up channels for trusting, coaching effectively, exchanging knowledge, learning, engaging others, and welcoming change. So exactly how does one go about cultivating a culture of dialogue?

 How to shape a culture of dialogue

  1. Find out what’s going on in other corners of the organisation. Begin with those in your direct hierarchy and those directly upstream and downstream from you. What are their concerns? Their priorities? Where are there natural points for collaboration?
  2. Listen for understanding. This requires temporarily suspending your judgment about what you hear, and focusing on understanding how they see the world.
  3. Repeat the key points you have heard them say. Your reactions should focus on, “Have I understood you correctly?”
  4. Ask for help to improve things. “How could we go about improving this situation?”
  5. Offer your ideas and perspective. “Here my thoughts… Can we work together on this? What should I/you/we do?”
  6. Follow through on the things you can influence. Here’s what I will do and I will report back to you.
  7. Enrol others to open the dialogue door. Emphasize the need for everyone to understand the bigger picture and to follow these suggestions to understand the situation(s), share ideas, and collaborate on the most promising improvement ideas.

Case study: How dialogue helped one company save $8 billion
A company we’ll call HE-XU Enterprises, a producer of iron, steel, cement, and chemicals, had very ambitious growth targets, but was not profitable enough to finance them. Their scorecard for the recently-completed fiscal year showed:

He-Xu Goals He-Xu Results
1. Increase profits by more than 10%

2. Increase revenues by more than 10%

3. Improve operating efficiencies to 95%

4. Organisation is flexible to cope with high risks of business fluctuation.

1. Profits are declining from 6.85%

2. Revenue is growing at 7.5% per year.

3. Efficiencies are 72%

4. Fixed costs are rigid and increasing.

The improvement path HE-XU pursued was to organise small teams in all business units and functions to assess: (1) why are we performing below our goals and (2) what changes should we make for future success?

Each team used a whole-systems framework to understand the causes and effects of their current performance. They brainstormed ways to eliminate their shortfalls’ root causes. These teams relied heavily on dialogue skills for success. In many cases they collaborated with other teams that were linked to their issues.

Over the next three years HE-XU made several improvements, most notably cost savings totaling $8 billion for that period!

Image source: iStock 


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