Boris Groysberg is a Professor of Business Administration in the Organizational Behavior unit at the Harvard Business School. He currently teaches Managing Human Capital course in the second year elective course of the MBA program and in several Executive Education programs. Michael Slind is a writer, editor, and communication consultant of talk, inc: How Trusted Leaders Use Conversation to Power Their Organization (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012). As the phrase “Leadership is a Conversation” implies, this article focuses on how leaders should communicate with their employees.
In the new business world, smart leader engage with employees in a way that is similar to an ordinary person-to-person conversation. These can be easily achievable by using the model of leadership that the authors developed called “organizational conversation”. There are four essential elements to this model; they are intimacy, interactivity, inclusion and intentionality. SUMMARY The author’s premise in this article is that one-way directive communication is no more effective in today’s business world and that it should be replaced by two – way conversation.
They then propose a new model of leadership that they developed which they call “organizational conversation”. The benefits of using “organizational conversation” are that it allows leaders to “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. ”(pg. 78). The authors then go on to explain the four interrelated elements of “organizational conversation”. The first element is intimacy. In this element the authors explained that leaders need to gain the trust of their employees.
They then continue to say that mental and emotional closeness is all that is needed and one what to achieve it is to “step down from their corporate perches and then step up to the challenge of communicating personally and transparently with people. ”(pg. 78). Then they explain the three ways to manifest intimacy, gain trust, listen well and get personal. The second element is interactivity. The authors begin by defining a conversation and by stating that in order to apply this element, leaders should communicate with employees in a more open and accepting way to promote a more “open and fluid” dialogue between the two people.
They also state that interacting with employees will strengthen the intimacy between employer and employees and one way to do so is by changing the channel of communication within an organization from a one sided channel like a broadcast to a two-way channel like a blog or “TelePresence”. The third element is inclusion. Here the authors explain that a conversation is an “equal opportunity endeavor” because it allows employees to share ownership of the substance of the discussion. This gives employees the chance to put their hearts and souls into contributing their own ideas instead of just agreeing with others.
They then explain the 3 new roles that committed employees can adopt once the spirit of inclusion is added into the company, which are brand ambassadors, thought leaders and story tellers. The final element is intentionality. While the first three elements concentrates on opening the flow of ideas, intentionality is focused on bringing the discussion to a single vision of what the discussion is for. The authors believe that this will help employees from all levels of the company hierarchy to gain a general understanding on where the company stands in its competitive environment.
The authors then conclude the article by stating that the flow of conversation is out of control and that smart leaders learn how to use conversation to their benefit by managing the flow of information in an honest fashion. One-way communication has become an antique but people will listen to conversation that is intimate, interactive, inclusive and intentional. CRITUQUE In the article, Groysberg and Slind give several examples of how business communications are dealt with in our current world. However, some of the points raised are questionable.
Such as that of Athenahealth where the company entrusts secret documents to all their workers and hence makes them all “insiders”. This is worrying, as to deem all employees as responsible is a clear generalisation. They are sure to be several bad apples in any company, waiting to spill their company secrets to a competitor. Athenahealth’s idea requires a high level of trust which is not possibly attainable in a world where white collar crime is rampant. Practices like these might lead to companies losing revenue as ideas are stolen by other companies.
Therefore, communications between the top brass and the employees should be amiable and open, but not to the extent where company secrets are divulged easily. In addition to that, the authors also cite examples of ways to broaden communications with employees such as the case of Cisco using its Tele-Presence product which enables people to have video conferences which are close to real conversations. The users are able to see eye to eye and are able to have almost life-like conversations through their computer. Another is the Kingfisher plc. , which held a “bazaar of ideas” with the idea to link up several previously separate divisions.
These ideas may be all well and good for industry giants such as Cisco and Kingfisher. But for smaller companies, which make up most of the bulk of business, these ideas are not feasible as they are too expensive. Cisco’s Tele-Presence for instance, is US$21,600, which is a large amount of money, especially for a head of a small business or a upstart company. Kingfisher’s “bazaar of ideas” meanwhile, involved them renting a building in Barcelona, and one can only imagine how much that would cost , considering that Kingfisher made it a compulsory event for all their retail managers.
Groysberg and Slind give good examples, but unfortunately , they are not suitable for all except those at the very crux of the business world However, the article also gives some positive points. Groysberg and Slind persuade managers to have personal conversations with their employees and not just bark instructions to them. This is a style of communication where managers not only give information to their workers but also they gather new knowledge and the views of their employees. This two-way communication style is a far cry from the older style of business communications where communications were only one-way, from top to bottom.
When an employee’s opinion on company policy is sought by their superiors, he is sure to feel wanted by the company. Concurrently, his job enthusiasm will also increase. As the saying goes, a happy employee is a productive employee. Gryosberg and Slind also talk about mental and emotional proximity being of vital importance in business conversation. The point conveyed is that as physical communication is not always feasible, with both employees and managers having too much to do in their hand, mental and emotional proximity, the key to build a bond between the two parties.
These two elements are components of conversational intimacy. Conversational intimacy is the building of a relationship through conversation. It requires good body language and listening skills for a manager to achieve an intimate relationship with his underlings. The example in the article of the president and CEO of Duke Energy, James E. Rodgers, is a classic case in point. Rodgers created a grading system for employees to grade him. When he found out that employees commented negatively on his internal communications skills, Rodgers set out doing the exercise more often while improving himself at the same time.
The number of those who still thought he did not improve gradually decreased. When employees saw him make an effort, they saw that Rodgers was trying to approach them, and his listening to their comments showed them that their opinion mattered. This created an intimate bond between them. Hence, other employers can use this method to help foster good relations between themselves and their employees CONCLUSION Generally, this article gives a good insight towards the how modern business communications should be conducted.
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