One of the most important aspects that affect performance of a company as a whole and of its constituents as such is the overall ambience in the work place. Many organizations reach a plateau of evolution and growth mostly due to an environment of fear, resentment and lack of trust. When the higher ranking officers in a company handle difficult situations and poor results or any other under pressure circumstances by questioning collaborators, offering angry recriminations and demeaning staff in public, they achieve an environment of intimidation and distrust. When this happens people tend to withhold information, in particular bad news, stop presenting freely and spontaneously ideas and eventually may even jump ship.
Managers often try to escape an image of wrong doing in terms of dealing with people. They are driven by the rules and the book, however they tend to simplify the fact that the issue is not the rule but the way they deal with it and with colleagues who may have overlooked it. It is the style, the delivery more than the content as such. This approach of management by coercion, due to research generated evidence, is giving way to emotional intelligence as a leadership approach.
In reality, poor communication, the silence of middle management can devastate a company. When a collaborative employee does not share ideas, or opinions with their superiors due to fear, the decisions of that manager suffer, because he has a skewed view of what is really going on in the organization and with the market place. In real life the employees who have to face a boss under fear suffer physical reactions that impair their contributions. These are categorized as toxic encounters that tend to alienate employees.
The obvious question is what to do?
Many things can be done. For example, allow middle managers to fight back, actually give them a tool to do it with. The idea of the GLEs (Grupos de Liderazgo Extendido) is precisely that. Also, managers may accept the value of changing and may try the kind-and-gentle approach. It is amazing how it works.
There are other ways, one very popular one is Management by Walking Around and Listening (MBWAL). This is a technique which is aimed at developing positive employee relationship, very much like the open door policy. It is a means of promoting effective two way communication between employees and managers.
Two way communication programs are designed in a fashion that allows for effective and responsible information to flow between employees and management. The success of such a program is based on the ability to achieve and control some conditions.
Honest frank and open communication is viewed as a means to achieve company goals, and not to undermine authority and control
Mangers recognize and accept that employees can offer insights on day-to-day activities that may lead to better decisions
Managers seek opportuities to go out and talk to employees to establish a better rapport, which will encourage employees to share information.
When employees are asked for input managers listen carefully and act on what employees have to offer.
Every questioned is answered promptly
Employees do not have fear to speak with their boss nor with their bosss boss.
MBWAL is a simple management process with tremendous business benefits if done correctly and consistently. When MBWAL is done erroneously or poorly there may be adverse consequences.
From a management point of view what you do is as follows:
Get out and walk all spaces several times a month. Walk un-announced. You do not necessarily have to talk to everyone, you just want to be seen and show interest
Listen with an open mind; this is not the time to pass criticism. This is the time to exercise the difference between the mechanics of hearing and the intellectual aspects of active listening
Process information, identify trends, recurring themes, and get back to you commitments and follow up like issues, etc.
Communicate vertically and horizontally, make sure that those (in a broad sense) who need to get the information will get it
Feedback, provide indicators openly throughout the organization that communication is working; introduce new programs like a face to face program in an active fashion; make sure others walk as well cross walking and listening between areas is very powerful
Never quit its a self-replenishing process; the energizer is that MBWAL is the right thing to do.