Conversationally adept leaders step down from their corporate perches and then step up to the challenge of communicating personally and transparently with their people. ~ Boris Groysberg & Michael Slind
Groysberg and Slind’s conclusion about organizational conversation is a result of studying organizational communication through more than 150 interviews in 100 organizations—large, small, for-profit, nonprofit, etc. The common theme heard over and over: moving toward a “conversation.” Groysberg and Slind said:
Smart leaders today, we have found, engage with employees in a way that resembles an ordinary person-to-person conversation more than it does a series of commands from on high. Furthermore, they initiate practices and foster cultural norms that instill a conversational sensibility throughout their organizations. Chief among the benefits of this approach is that it allows a large or growing company to function like a small one. By talking with employees, rather than simply issuing orders, leaders can retain or recapture some of the qualities—operational flexibility, high levels of employee engagement, tight strategic alignment—that enable start-ups to out-perform better-established rivals.
You’d think that in the age of abundant technology, we’d be communicators extraordinaire. That’s not necessarily the case. Groysberg and Slind said, “For many executives and managers, the temptation to treat every medium at their disposal as if it were a megaphone has proved hard to resist.”
As more distance separates me from the youngest members of our workforce, the generational differences become more evident. And with each year, it seems, I appreciate more and more about the millennials and their fresh perspective of communication and corporate expectations. The millennials expect both their peers and those in authority to communicate with them in a dynamic, two-way fashion. By contrast, throughout my early years in the workforce in the late 80s and early 90s, the only options for communication were typewritten memos, print newsletters and speeches. So not only did the old model of leadership promote a style of top-down, one-way communication, the only means of communication available fostered that same culture.
The changes in communication have, no doubt, made many (or maybe most) of the assertive, control-freak baby boomers quite uncomfortable. In the past, leaders would both create and control messaging, assuming that employees were passive consumers of their information. But now, leaders have to actually let go and relinquish some of the control of content and even invite employees to actively participate in organizational messaging. It’s a shift from corporate communication to organizational conversation.
In my day of being young in the workforce, leaders were essentially behind a barrier, almost a steel wall of sorts. Communication would be shot out to the organization from behind the stockade of power and mystery. Social media and technology, along with generational shifts, has broken through that stockade and is demanding communication that is personal, direct, authentic and trustworthy. Welcome to the “conversation.”