THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN THE NORTHWEST ARKANSAS BUSINESS JOURNAL August 1, 2016
This subject is especially pertinent in light of recent events concerning Black Lives Matter and the cold blooded murders of police officers around the country. One incident, even if it is an anomaly, in the hands of people with an intention to agitate, can stir listeners into riots in the streets.
A smaller version of this happens in your company all the time. One employee feels, or actually is betrayed, mistreated or taken advantage of in some way and word spreads like wildfire throughout the company and is even publicized on social media. Then there are the agitators in your company who simply hold on to the belief that all companies are out to take advantage of its employees who are ready to pounce on the slightest misstep. These incidents can actually throw an entire company into crisis mode as its leaders attempt to get a handle on what happened and what they can do to right the ship and change the conversation to align with their heart and intent. Good companies spend literally billions of dollars each year in time, money and human resources managing misunderstandings and unintended mistakes.
Throughout my career as a leader and as a consultant I have worked with a lot of great companies and leaders, none of whom ever had anything but the best intentions for their company’s health and the well being of their employees. Even as good as they are, they have been, or could easily become the target of these negative accusations and conversations.
But effective leaders work diligently to stay ahead of things and shape the conversations of their stakeholders.
So the question is, what can you do to shape the conversation in your company in a positive direction? Here are a few thoughts:
- Keep doing all the things you are doing to ensure your employees have a great place to work, i.e. competitive compensation and vacation programs, healthcare and insurance coverage, 401K programs, tuition reimbursement, training and development for growth and advancement, company picnics, newsletters, health and safety initiatives, community involvement, etc., etc., etc.
- Don’t forget to let your employees know how these things stack up against other companies in your region.
- Understand that people (all of us) buy with their emotions and justify with facts. Right or wrong, we tend to look for facts that justify how we feel.
- Give them as few reasons to find “facts” that justify negative emotions.
- Weed out those who cannot resist their tendency to behave inconsistently with your values and expectations.
- Establish onboarding programs that shape the initial conversations of new employees, and that ensures that they partner with the people that you want to influence their early thoughts and perceptions of your company.
- Keep listening to your employees, and train your frontline managers how to do the same, with empathy, support and without being defensive.
- Act on as many of their ideas as you can, so that they will know that you have been listening.
- Understand that people (all of us) learn to believe what we hear ourselves say; which, by the way, shapes our emotions.
- Become a story telling organization, telling the stories that are consistent with the good you want to have your employees focus on.
- Solicit the same types of stories from them every chance you get. Get them to tell them to you in meetings of all sizes, so that the conversation is being shaped by these positive stories.
- Finally, be honest, transparent and frequent with your communications.
- People don’t expect you to be perfect, but they do need to know what’s going on, and to see you owning your mistakes.