Newcom is a retail business that opened its doors three years ago. Carl, the owner, is passionate about his company and this has given him the energy he needed to work in overdrive since inception. Carl’s determination and focus have yielded better than expected results—he was able to exceed his projected timeline of growing the business into a multimillion dollar operation.
When stress levels are low, Carl is easy going, usually ready with supportive advice and can be a great listener. Carl assures the members of his team that he cares about them and they trust him to do whatever it takes to attract new business. However, when clients complain or goals are not being met, Carl can be infinitely less approachable. When stressed, he tends to overreact, shouting, blaming, and humiliating members of his team. From time-to-time Carl sprinkles his thunderous outbursts with profanity, weaponizing his words, leaving behind a trail of devastation.
Carl takes great pains to hire the best possible talent so his expectations are high and so is staff turnover. From his perspective, he is paying generous salaries, so he feels justified in expressing what he calls, “tough love”.
Carl’s style of leading helped him attain better results than he imagined but he has been struggling to scale his business and move past his plateauing level of profitability. Carl is increasingly aware that his team’s performance and company’s growth are intricately linked to the culture he cultivated and he is committed to doing something about it.
Transforming Communication Norms.
When you are ready to grow your business past its current performance levels it is important to understand transformation starts with you, because as an owner, you are a primary architect of your culture. The shift you need to make starts with examining your leadership and how you affect others, regardless of how positive you believe your intentions are. As you take your business into its growth cycle and beyond, team capacity can expand sustainably when you are ready to:
- Listen to understand the depth and breadth of your contribution to your company’s culture;
- Identify and turnaround your unproductive communication habits. These norms can be uncovered when you invite feedback, listen without explaining your actions, and positively process honest, constructive feedback. Remember, it takes great courage for people to speak openly;
- Reflect on how the original structures, (your organizational chart, policies and procedures), or lack of them are counterproductive to stimulating and sustaining growth; and
- Invest your resources — including quality time — into your personal, then team transformation.
Business owners and leaders who are in, or entering into a cycle of growth have a few important choices to make about how they can effectively harness communication as a performance tool.
Here are four steps you can take to improve internal communication practices:
1. Become Increasingly Self-Aware.
Embarking on an inside-out evolutionary path starts with being open to learning more about yourself and how you affect others. The people around you may be inclined to provide accurate feedback if they feel safe. In the case of Carl, he expresses anger without self-management, so creating safe space during the information collection process and sustaining it afterward are essential for unearthing the truth. The great thing about self-awareness is that it is a skill leaders can develop with practice and open mindedness.
2. Master your Non-Verbals.
Your tone, volume, body language and choice of words all contribute to the climate or mood of your team. Profanity and blaming language generate anger and fear. Condescending tones can have the same effect. Mastering your non-verbals is important, but in isolation it is not enough. You also need to attune to others because if you can tune in to their non-verbals, you have information you can use to immediately course correct. As you modify your behaviour, keep in mind “walking on eggshells” is just as detrimental to business growth as threatening non-verbals.
3. Express Authentic Appreciation.
Sometimes leaders use appreciative words before or after being critical. When tied closely together, criticism has a tendency to extinguish the effects of positive sentiments, causing them to seem shallow and false. When you want to express your appreciation authentically it is important to cultivate healthy work relationships and meaningfully show the people around you that you value them.
Authentic appreciation is deeper than saying the words, “Thank you” or, “You did a good job.” When healthy relationships exist, people are more likely to buy into statements like these. When they don’t, team members may be inclined to discount appreciative sentiments. Appreciation should be an experience and this is more likely to happen when your connections are based on trust.
4. Rebuild your Communication Infrastructure.
Improving how you, and the people around you interact is only part of your communication strengthening formula. It is equally important to examine your communication framework. Are you facilitating meetings? How often? Are the right people attending? How effective are they? You can also consider the effectiveness of other communication modes like emails and instant messaging. Don’t forget to consider your informal communication channels. You should determine if they distort, preempt, or support your intended messages.
Yvette Bethel is author of “Interconnectivity, Flow, and Balance: A Values-Based Framework for Reinventing Leadership in Uncertain Times“. With knowledge gained from over 30 years of Fortune 500 and consulting experience, Yvette shares her rich experience and proprietary model for changing businesses from the inside out. She is also a Preferred Partner of Six Seconds, the largest and most prominent emotional intelligence network in the world.