Leading Conversation in turbulent times

Those charged with employee engagement and internal communication might readily agree that communication is the lifeblood of a company, but senior managers are more concerned with strategy, performance and results.

Strategic intentions are no longer annually reviewed plans, but flexible approaches to turbulent markets and rapidly changing growth areas. Strategy needs to shape the direction of the company, and respond to changing requirements. A challenge for leaders is communicating the developing strategy in a way that’s meaningful to the diverse groups of people that make up the company.

What this means is that strategy needs translating on the ground in teams and workgroups.  The Communications team can help not with campaigns but by creating the opportunities for leaders and managers to make more use of the most basic unit of business collaboration – the conversation.

I was struck by this in the Harvard Business Review recently:

“In company after company, the patterns and processes by which people communicate with each other are unmistakably in flux. The old ‘corporate communication’ is giving way to a model that we call ‘organizational conversation’. That shift is, for many people, a disorienting process. But it also offers a great leadership opportunity.”

                            – Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind, Harvard Business Review.

This shift to richer, more direct communication isn’t about technology, although many companies are finding benefits by shaping internal communities using digital workplace tools. Rather, it’s about directors demonstrating that they appreciate the value of those who execute the strategy and create success on a daily basis. This demonstration requires two-way dialogue; what we usually call a conversation.

Conversations may be about leaders having an open door policy, but it’s not always about two individuals talking to each other. Conversational leadership is about the Big Conversation – “How does what we do help deliver on the strategy; and if it does not what are we going to do about it?”

The right channels and settings can help leaders talk directly with communities, and have those internal communities respond. Leaders need narratives that communicate the purpose and reason for the strategy, and strategic changes. It’s the local dialogue that creates understanding; it’s not top-down anymore, it is co-created at the coalface.

Narratives (stories that make sense) can be passed on by people at every level within the company, and spark the conversations that lead to understanding. People need to be involved to understand the story, and embed the strategy in a way that’s meaningful to their role.

Via the intranet, in person, around the table, on the all-hands call, at the town hall – conversations and a narrative based approach to explanations will help cement strategies in people’s day-to-day behaviours, not just in the board room.

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