How Successful Leaders Use Conversation To Empower Their Firm

Successful relationships in the home rely heavily on open and honest communication.

Relationships in the office are no different. Except, it can be difficult to express yourself when faced with a hierarchical and corporate environment. It’s one thing to open up to your spouse, and quite another to open up to your boss.

Yet, studies after studies show that the higher engagement of your employees, the better a company’s performance.

So how does a corporation—like a law firm—simulate the communicative environment of the home, but in the workplace?

The Harvard Business Review Blog addresses this question in its newest ideacast (listen to it here). In an interview with Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind, authors of Talk, Inc.: How Trusted Leaders Use Conversation to Power Their Organizations, the ideacast develops the view that Leadership Is a Conversation.

“If you think about what organization is all about, it’s just basically a bunch of conversations that are happening at the same time,” answers Mr. Groysberg.

“What leaders do is facilitate the conversations that actually produce value, that actually engage employees; its what distinguishes some of the best corporations.”

Both Mr. Groysberg and Mr. Slind start with the key elements of what makes interpersonal and productive conversation among friends. These conversations include four elements; they are interactive, intimate, inclusive, and intentional.

“When you place this conversation in an organization, many of these attributes disappear,” laments Mr. Groysberg.

Take a minute to envision the stereotypical law firm. It’s in a high-rise corporate office, sterile and serious. Lawyers dress in power suits and employees fear the senior partners. Unfortunately, stereotypes exist for a reason.

Many law firms still engage in outdated, formal practices and hierarchies of power. What the senior associates say, matters. What first-year associates opine, does not.

Nevertheless, those environments that are more engaging on an equal level among all employee ranks tend to be more productive. However, in today’s globalized world, it’s difficult to actively engage employees who are in other offices or even other countries.

In fact, it’s difficult to engage employees in your own office—employees who are just a few doors down.

“Intimacy is really about getting closer to employees; it’s really about leadership.”

Getting closer to your employees means close spatially (especially in big, dynamic companies) but also in spirit—as in corporate culture and interactivity. There should be a back-in-forth dialogue, instead of a monologue by senior partners.

For example, a corporate memo counts as communication. But, for employees to feel a part of a conversation, there should be an intimate setting, interactivity, intentionality, and inclusivity about it.

Don’t circulate a memo. Circulate a letter addressed to specific, target groups of individuals. Ask for questions or feedback. Post the letter on an interactive online forum.

Or, organize a brief announcement meeting. Don’t hold it in a conference room; knock on doors, circulate the message in person.

Conversation today happens over the web, not just in the office.

And, conversation has an agenda.

“Real conversation is open, but not aimless,” says Mr. Slind.

You should get something out of conversation. It should always tie back to the ultimate strategy of the organization. When conducting conversation, use a smartboard or slideshow with a single word or phrase written on it—one that encapsulates the strategy.

The conversation should surround, “Efficiency,” or “Better customer service,” or “Gaining new clients,” or “Necessary staff training.”

Mr. Groysberg and Mr. Slind cite many real-life examples. Here’s one of them.

EMC Corporation, the world’s largest data storage company, started sponsoring employee blogs. In this way, the company let employees become thought leaders in their field. EMC didn’t just rely on the Corporate Communication Department to do it for them.

This meant employees were included in the overall messaging of the firm.

A group of women at EMC got a buy-in from a senior executive at the company to write a book that told stories about mothers in the workplace. Diversity and inclusion campaigns about gender or family issues are usually top-down, but here, employees were leading the conversation.

Now, it’s your turn—as a law firm manager—to find ways to include your associates in the conversation. You’ll find it improves the solidarity of your employees, as well as the productivity of your firm.

-WB

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