Bottoms up! Engage Reverse Gear

Bottom-up communications ~ Engage Reverse Gear

I hope as a company boss or manager you are already convinced of the need and value for a successful system of bottom-up communications. In summary, here are just a few reasons why listening to the rank and file is a wise move:

  • They are full of good ideas, most go unheard and some end up with the competition
  • Working at the coalface, they get to know what the problems are
  • It makes for a better working environment for everyone; involvement leads to engagement, increased morale and improved productivity
  • It encourages employee / talent loyalty and redcues staff turnover and costs

I could go on (so you’ll be pleased to hear that I won’t!) because in this blog the focus is on a few practical ways to reverse the flow of communication in typical corporate employee event and so produce bottom-up communication…

A wall / suggestion box
The wall or suggestion box, even an internet site, or a pin board in an actual corridor, is where employees can post ideas, questions and concerns. The wall must be “managed”; just being able to post notes – physically or virtually – isn’t enough, they need acting on. Fast..!

Thoughts can get buried, unintentionally by volume or intentionally by others to protect themselves or the status quo. It is vital that senior managers read and respond in words, back on the same wall and also act on those valuable ideas.  

Ideally, update the wall within 24 hours of a message being posted. Rapid feedback on the comments or questions is the key to encouraging further contributions. Milliken Textiles made massive improvements across their manufacturing plants by having a 24 hour response to staff ideas; Yes – No – Or it’s gone upstairs. And “upstairs” had 24 hours to respond also. If people think their idea will disappear into a black hole – or treated without respect – the ideas won’t come. As ever in communication, rapport and trust come before openness.

Question Time-style ‘Town Halls’
A monthly bottom up ‘town hall’ meeting is based loosely on the UK TV programme Question Time, where audience members quiz politicians, journalists etc.

A company’s version between a group of employees (by invitation, or first to apply basis) and some of the top executives can make a big difference to two-way dialogue and feeding more accurate information into the grapevine.

Questions can be requested prior to the town halls, or tabled through facilitators at the event, or even direct. It is vital these events are not turned into a top down presentation as is so often the case with "normal town halls". Nothing here should be off limits and all fair questions should be answered. Again, if action is required on some questions or concerns, make sure that the action actually happens.

Nothing beats face-to-face meetings but town halls can be extended by teleconferencing, Skype, the company's intranet or Twitter/Yammer tools. A dedicated email or voicemail box can also be provided for the people to be able to raise, anonymously, reasoned criticism of the leaders’ decisions, actions or work styles.

Employee Focus Groups
Focus groups for employees, rather than customers or prospects, can provide an opportunity for smaller groups of up to 20 people (by invitation or first come first served registration) to sit down and express opinions, concerns and solutions about a specific issue. These can be professionally facilitated by a consultant or a suitably skilled and trusted senior manager. Ideally the CEO or main board member would participate. This model works very well as market research, as a listening tool to secure input and feedback from customers or prospects; and it works equally as well as internal research and listening with employees.

Work-Out is a structured, systematic way to bring people together to develop rapid, lasting improvements in process performance and the idea is often attributed to Jack Welch, when CEO at General Electric.

By design work-out engages the best thinking of those in the organisation who are closest to the processes, who live them daily and who invariably have a lot of ideas for improvement – but who have, hitherto, not been asked to contribute in a structured way. The work-out ensures their best ideas get implemented over a period of 90-120 days and are supported by senior management.

This process is a more structured and is typically directed, or commissioned to solve some kind of problem. You may find issues are raised in a Question Time, Ideas Scheme or Focus Group could be ideal for a Work-Out. By including the individual(s) or team(s) who identified the issue in the first place you would clearly demonstrate the Business Leaders both listen and respect what people across the organisation say – because you act on them…

In Summary

These are few ideas on reversing the communication flow – more to follow in a future blog. If you have found this blog useful – or even not useful – and would like to talk to me further about creating involvement or enriching talent, please get in touch...

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