Shaping Culture: Communication
Effective organization-wide communication helps to establish and reinforce shared values, expectations, and norms, and it also fosters a sense of community and collaboration among employees. When done well, communications can give life an organization’s mission, vision and values. This is how communications influence workplace culture. To know if your communications are moving the organizational culture in the direction you want, there are several things you can do as an organization and as a leader.
If you missed Part 1 of this article series on Shaping Culture, be sure to check it out. I take a deeper look at how leadership drives culture.
An organizational lens on communication
Start by knowing what you have been saying, how you’ve been saying it and how it has been received: conduct an internal communications audit. Review emails, newsletters, intranets, Teams and Slack channels, department updates, team meetings and town halls to assess messaging alignment. Also talk to employees to understand what messages they are taking in from the organization and how it influences their work and workplace experience. Use this information to determine what is working well and where gaps exist. From there, an organization can create or update channel-appropriate messaging to keep employees connected to their purpose, values and strategy.
Rewards and recognition programs are another area to assess alignment with the organization’s desired culture. What are you celebrating and rewarding? Does it connect to your desired culture? If your organization doesn’t already have them, recognition programs for individuals and teams who demonstrate the company’s mission, values, beliefs and purpose through their behavior can accelerate movement towards your desired culture while also creating greater awareness of what the organization values in its workforce.
Another way an organization communicates its culture and values is through its engagement and attention to corporate social responsibility initiatives. This can look very different within organizations depending on their industry, but some core attributes are consistent across sectors. How the organization engages with social and environmental issues that are relevant to its business operations is one way to communicate what it values. Actions and progress on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives are another way organizations demonstrate their values and culture internally and externally. For example, the level of support and resources provided to employee resource groups are a way of showing commitment to the value these groups bring to an organization.
These are just three areas that organizations can evaluate to assess culture and communication alignment. There are other steps that leaders can take to understand and evolve their communication to support and develop the culture they want to see in their teams.
A leader’s lens on communication
A library’s worth of research shows that the manager has an outsized impact on an employee’s job satisfaction and workplace experience. Communication can play a big role in this. As a leader, it is important to develop awareness of your communication style as well as the preferences of your team, peers, and senior leaders. While we all have natural tendencies, it is possible to adapt and evolve to your audience. This takes both self-awareness and curiosity to understand all sides of the communication equation.
When communicating with people on your team, developing your coaching and conversational skills can transform your employee relationships. Taking a coaching approach to managing teams changes the dynamic in a way that fosters problem-solving and creativity. This is important if you value psychological safety within your team and organization. An executive I work with recently received feedback that his good intention to ask more questions was not having the impact he was looking for. A member of his team pulled him aside and said his questions were leading questions, which often put people on the defensive. The team felt like the leader had all the answers and the questions were a test to see if they responded with the answer he was looking for. I was able to coach him on asking even better questions, and he reports better conversations and problem solving on his team as a result. It is important to note that this team clearly already had a strong sense of psychological safety for the team member to share this feedback with the leader. This is even more evidence of the links between culture, communication and leadership!
As a leader, setting aside time and space consistently for conversations about organizational, team and personal purpose also shapes culture and drives engagement. When employees can see their impact on the bigger picture and connect it to values, engagement soars and positive cultural attributes take hold. In addition, taking the time to articulate the values that guide your decisions and actions will influence culture by creating transparency. Employees will understand what drives your thinking and behavior which can build trust by helping employees know what to expect.
To wrap it up, culture and communication are tightly linked. Organizational reputation, both internally and externally, and personal integrity are at risk when words don’t match actions. Distrust and disengagement are deadly when it comes to shaping an organization’s culture. That’s why knowing what your organization is saying and how it is being interpreted is so important. By establishing shared values, encouraging open communication, celebrating successes, providing feedback and coaching, and creating a sense of community, leaders and organizations can foster a positive and productive workplace culture that supports employee engagement, retention, and overall success.
Here are a few more resources that my clients and I have found useful when it comes to culture and communications:
Better Conversations Everyday from The Center for Creative Leadership
10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation from Celeste Headless, TEDx
The Secret to Asking Better Questions by Hal Gregersen, The Wall Street Journal
Connection Culture by Michael Lee Stallard