In conducting Service-wide Discussions, there is set of guidelines that need to be adhered.
Rule #1 – Employ an External Facilitator.
Choose a professional facilitator you can trust by reputation to do the right job, the right way, the first time. If you don’t create the budget, you risk diluting the result. Some things are better done by a highly skilled professional, the right way, especially when it may not have been done well in the past. History may need to be rewritten. As a leader, the legacy we leave in an organisation will be remembered for many years to come.
I guess you wouldn’t hand your local tradesperson the job of performing a medical operation just because they are good with their hands. Ensure that when it comes to complex and sensitive issues, sometimes we need to enlist the professional. (To read more about Rule #1 in Cultural Due Diligence –Part Two. A Window into the “How” of Cultural Due Diligence)
Rule #2 – Invite Every Employee
And I mean every employee. Everyone matters. Everyone will have an opinion. So ask. If you don’t they will make their voice heard, but perhaps not in a manner that is productive. Each person must be given the opportunity to be engaged in this process, regardless of rank or role – director or dishwasher, dentist or driver. To leave one person off the guest list is to risk failure. I have seen this more than once. It is not worth the risk or backlash.
And by invite, we mean just that. Send a letter or some form of communication addressed to each individual personally. We want them to know that they are important just as the process is important. This helps to set the scene for their individual commitment to the intervention.
Managers can be in sprinkled amid groups and participate wholly. For confidentiality, sometimes they require a session on their own. Be judicious about the mix of people to allow the flow of information. Most senior management also must participate and, therefore, perhaps require a group on their own.
Rule #3 – Ask A Bold Question – even if it seems dumb.
The answer lies in the question. Ask good ones.
Hugh McKay once said, “The answer closes the question, stay with the question.” Sage words from a seasoned questioner.
Ask, “If you were in charge of this organisation, what is the one thing you would change?” Ask, “Why is it important?” and “Tell me how would you change it”.
Stress and insist on the ‘how you would change it’ since responsibility and accountability are critical. Give time for people to respond. People may wish to respond in a number of ways including verbally, non-verbally or in writing. But you do want verbal responses in the moment, allow everyone time to speak. Keep your groups to a manageable size.
In an article titled, ‘The best question you have never asked’, Seaver (2014) suggests a question that can tell you a lot, quickly.
“What do you know, I probably don’t know, but should know, to help me better understand this organization?”
Not really, because the sentiment calls to you in bite size pieces. The group will get it.
So let your people talk with their mouth full.
In other words, I want to hear what you know that will help or hinder progress.
Often employees are dissatisfied with their job because of the little niggling things that prevent them from doing their very best each day. Remember, it’s often the small stuff that really counts. This is a case of addressing the elephant in the room as well as eradicating the disease carrying mosquitoes.
Rule #4 – Act On The Outcomes
The Service-wide Discussions are an intervention. Interventions come with expectations and repercussions. That’s the deal. And that’s fair. Act on the results and the event holds credibility. Ignore the results and practised cynicism will become the culture, quicker than a teenager can devour a pizza.
Use the commitment of senior management to undertake a project that will yield a short term visible result. That way, the troops feel like their time was worthwhile. In the shorter term, conversation can begin to turn in a favourable direction. The larger, more difficult projects can follow. In the meantime, choreograph something in the close to immediate future.
In the creation of a new culture, trust and loyalty are paramount. Loyalty is the result of a series of past positive experiences that build trust in an individual. If that chain of experiences contains some broken links, the employee won’t wear it, or the new culture.
Written by Jill Sweatman
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