How to Implement Communication Changes

Basic Recipe = Meet • Share information • Take notes • Discuss • More notes • Follow-up • Repeat

The results of the Workplace Communication Assessment reveal the issues – challenges to productivity and satisfaction on the job – that people notice in their work environment. That makes it possible to develop a plan for collaborating to resolve those issues. Acting on the results of the survey has also been shown to increase trust and confidence in the workplace.

I. Resolving Workplace Issues with Communication

To resolve the workplace issues identified in the Results Report from your Group Workplace Assessment, we recommend that you use this guide on using specific kinds of communication as a tool to reduce workplace issues. It includes ideas on using the Results Report to engage your group members in experimenting with new ways of communicating.

In addition, the Resolving Workplace Issues with Four Conversations document is also helpful. It identifies 8 different categories of workplace issues, and which “productive conversations” are most helpful for resolving issues of each type. The 8 categories, of workplace issues are:

  1. Lateness
  2. Poor quality work
  3. Difficult people
  4. Lack of teamwork
  5. Poor planning and workload overwhelm
  6. Insufficient resources and lack of support
  7. Lack of accountability
  8. Incomplete conversations

The recommended communication practices are simple, everyday conversations, with perhaps a little more rigor than some of us often use. For example, when you ask someone for something, do you always remember to say “by when” you want it, and take time to clarify the agreement so you are both clear about what will be delivered, and when and to whom? Small simple details like this can change the way people do their work, as well as increasing confidence and fulfilling expectations.

The four conversations are also known as productive conversations because they include those details to support people in understanding goals and the role they – and others – play in reaching them. These conversations also help to establish understandable agreements for results and ensure timely follow-up to close out those agreements. Four productive conversations are briefly described below.

  1. Initiative Conversations are used to propose a project, a goal, or a change of some kind. They specify What you want to accomplish, When you want it finished, and Why it matters. These conversations are associated with clear goals and purposes, that ideally should relate to the overall mission of the group or organization.
  2. Understanding Conversations are dialogues in which people come together to develop the plans and specifics for reaching a goal. For example, the “goal-makers” interact with people who will be involved in – or impacted by – the work to attain those goals. This process of listening and learning may even revise the goal itself at the same time it clarifies the plan for accomplishment. Understanding conversations clarify Who needs to be involved in accomplishing the objectives and the role each will play; Where the resources will come from and Where the results will be delivered; and How it will be accomplished, including any special processes or requirements that must be met. These listen-and-learn dialogues ultimately include everyone affected by the work being proposed.
  3. Performance Conversations consist of requests for people to take an action or produce a result, plus promises by people to take actions and produce results. In other words, they create agreements between people for tasks to be performed, and any products, services, and communications that will be created and delivered. These conversations specify What is to be accomplished, When it will be finished, and Why it matters. The resulting agreements, or “assignments” are spelled out to provide the first requirement of “accountability”.
  4. Closure Conversations create completion and certainty for people involved in both requesting and promising results. They provide follow-up to see that the job is done (or not), and they include giving updates on the status of a request or promise to see what’s next. Closure conversations are characterized by the “Four A’s”:
  • Acknowledge the facts – State the status of the agreement at the agreed time for completion or progress updates;
  • Appreciate the people – Recognize the contribution of those who accepted the agreement, regardless of outcomes;
  • Apologize for any mistakes or misunderstandings on either side of the agreement, to clear the air to move ahead; and
  • Amend any broken agreements – Declare agreements complete or modify them as needed to get the desired results.

Closure is the second half of “accountability”, reporting what has happened regarding an assignment to produce or deliver something at a particular time. They can also be used to update or terminate an ineffective way of operating.

The Resolving Workplace Issues with Four Conversations document mentioned above tells you which of these four productive conversations are associated with each category of workplace issues.

II. Workplace Assessment Results Report and Recommendations

When everyone in the group has completed their Group Workplace Assessment, and you have downloaded the Results Report (an Excel spreadsheet), you will see the group’s average response for each of the 56 issues, ranked by frequency from highest to lowest. One benefit of using the average score for each issue is that it prevents finger-pointing, so people can talk about workplace issues and their solutions without blame.

High-frequency issues need the most attention. For each of the Top Three most frequently occurring issues, your Results Report provides recommendations on how to go about resolving those issues with more productive and effective communication. A recommendation may include adding certain ingredients such as due dates, or follow-up on all agreements. It may also suggest increasing the frequency of some communications, such as stating goals at every meeting rather than assuming people will remember.

The Results Report is useful for opening a group discussion about the issues themselves, and for collecting ideas about how to resolve them. Your group(s) may even want to choose which communication practices they see as the most important to begin practicing right away.

III. Prepare for the Post-Assessment Meeting

After you have closed out the Group Workplace Assessment process and received your Results Report, it is important to have a “closure conversation” with the people who were invited to participate in the Group Workplace Assessment. Ideally, this meeting will include a brief statement on each of the elements of a Closure Conversation, i.e.:

  • Acknowledge that the Assessment is finished and share the results with group members, so everyone can see what the whole group says are the relative frequencies of specific workplace issues;
  • Appreciate the people by thanking them for participating and for being willing to look at workplace issues with the intent to resolve them;
  • Apologize for any miscommunications or difficulties that arose during the Assessment; and
  • Amend the agreement(s) for participation to invite their collaboration on improving communication practices – both within the group and with others – to reduce the most troublesome workplace issues.

Preparing for this meeting involves making several decisions about when and how to conduct the meeting.

Share the Results Report: Share the Assessment Results Report with your group members. The most popular method is to download your Results Report, turn the Excel spreadsheet into a PDF document, and send a copy to every group member. Another method is to put it on a group-accessible website and send group members a link to the Results Report. A third method is to print it as a handout to be distributed at the meeting, or sometime prior to it.

Whichever method you choose for sharing the Results Report, consider also making the Resolving Workplace Issues with Four Conversations document (mentioned above) available to people as well. Some of your group members will be very interested in learning about how to upgrade communications to avoid workplace issues. Others will not be interested in doing that, but will likely get on board as the process gains momentum. In any case, by making this document available, group members can see the “big picture”: Eight categories of workplace issues and the conversations that can reduce or eliminate them.

Schedule the Meeting: Decide when to have the Post-Assessment Meeting of all people in your group – even those who did not submit their results by the deadline. If your group is too large or too dispersed to hold one meeting, then choose how to break the group up into sub-groups who can meet to discuss the Assessment results and any next steps for resolving some of the high-frequency workplace issues. Schedule the meeting and the physical location(s) or conference call number and access code.

Consider Visual Aids for the Meeting: Decide whether to make up PowerPoint slides (or some other visual aid, such as posters) to support the Post-Assessment Meeting discussion of workplace issues and the conversations that can resolve them. Making discussion topics visible to all will stimulate thinking and talking, and keep the conversation moving.

Some ideas that have been used successfully to support group members in understanding and discussing results of the Group Workplace Assessment are outlined below. These can be turned into visual displays, e.g., PowerPoints, or used as part of your meeting agenda.

  1. Issues We Do Not Have. Point out the group’s communication strengths by showing some of the lowest-frequency workplace issues. These are the issues at the very bottom of the list shown in your Results Report. People appreciate seeing the workplace issues that they do not have! Pick 5 or more of these and take a few minutes to pat yourselves on the back.
  2. Issues We See Too Often. Select the top 3 – or 5 or 10 – communication issues that group members said they see most frequently. Those are the issues at the top of the list in your Results Report. Putting a short list of these issues in front of the whole group opens an opportunity for discussion about how people see those issues and the kind of problems they cause.
  3. Communication Solutions. The Results Report includes recommendations for using one or more of the four “productive conversations” to resolve the top 3 most frequently observed workplace issues. Making these visible to the whole group creates another opportunity for discussion – this time to talk about changing workplace conversations to improve communication effectiveness and prevent problems.
  4. The Categories of Frequent Issues. Note any patterns of issues, such as whether several high-frequency issues fall into the same one or two categories. If they do, then communication changes could be focused on the suggestions for making improvements by category, as shown in the Resolving Workplace Issues with Four Conversations document.

Those three steps – planning when and how to make the Results Report available to all group members, scheduling the meeting, and planning any visual aids for the meeting – are all you need before sending out your meeting invitation.

IV. Leading Toward Implementing Changes in Communication

To finalize your Post-Assessment Meeting agenda, keep in mind that you want to move the group from discussing the workplace issues to creating a plan for collaboration to resolve those issues. Below are some points that have been successfully used to lead people toward developing ways to implement changes in communication that your group is ready to consider.

Closure. A good way to start your meeting is by closing out the survey process. Two things are important here:

  • First, acknowledge the fact that the Group Workplace Assessment process is finished. It’s good to give a few statistics, such as how many people submitted their Workplace Assessments and what percent of the whole group that is.  
  • Second, make it clear that the Results Report is not “bad news”. The value of having people face up to their workplace problems and barriers is that they are more likely to want to make changes that will reduce those problems. It is also possible that there has never been an opportunity, as a group, to identify and discuss those problems and their costs. Seeing the issues is useful, because they all point to different kinds of communication that will strengthen the effectiveness of the group. It is a fast way to learn what will make the organization more effective and pleasant.

Reviewing the Results. The whole point of reviewing the results is to get people talking about where the problems are and how to address them. For the most part, people want to see and discuss this kind of information, because it is a profile of the organization’s communication culture. As suggested in the “Visual Aids” section (above), it is useful to look at:

  • Issues We Do Not Have – These are the group’s communication strengths. Looking at the “Resolving Workplace Issues with Four Conversations” document, people can see which conversations are associated with different categories of issues. The low-frequency issues are where the group’s communications are working well, and that document demonstrates that they do know how to conduct productive conversations very well in many circumstances.
  • Issues We See Too Often – These are the high-frequency issues, and the top 3 issues come with recommendations for resolution that are specifically associated with each of the 3 issues. Talking about those issues makes it clear that these things happen often, and that there are costs, in productivity and good will, associated with each issue. 

Encourage discussion, inviting people to add some specifics to each issue (if they are willing to do so in the presence of others), such as: 

  • When does this issue arise? 
  • Does it affect productivity or performance, or does it have more personal or social impacts? 
  • What do you think would solve it?  
  • You can even ask for a vote: If you could only pick two or three issues to focus on resolving, which ones would they be?   

Also, there are four “productive conversations” that can be used to resolve these workplace issues. Every organization has a pattern of communication that may vary with different sub-groups. It is useful to determine:

  • Which one or two conversations keep showing up in the Results Report as needing more practice? 
  • What situations in our workday might be appropriate for practicing some of those productive conversations?

This discussion gets everyone acquainted with problems they may have already known about, but have not really discussed before in this way. Talking about the workplace with respect to the issues people see makes it possible to consider that it is possible to improve workplace relations. It also becomes apparent that making changes to be more effective and to have a more positive work environment would be worthwhile. At some point, people begin to discuss which issues, or categories of issues, they think are most deserving of prompt attention.    

NOTE FOR FACILITATOR(S): Facilitate discussion – and take good notes!  Be prepared to capture some of the comments, either on a whiteboard or a computer. Of special importance is the recognition of some issues as being important to tackle, while others are not such a big deal.

Communication Solutions. This is where the group makes decisions about how to proceed, i.e., what changes will eliminate, reduce, or prevent the recurrence of some of the high-frequency issues – and who will practice using them. Use the “Resolving Workplace Issues with Four Conversations” document to get specific about practicing some of the conversations recommended for resolving issues. Decisions your group members can now make include the following:

  1. Choose which issues are most important resolve first.  Or, choose which conversation(s) seem to be most in need of upgrades for the group.   
  2. Choose how to go about practicing new communication habits. The whole group could take on one issue at a time, and practice all the conversations associated with that issue. Or, break into sub-groups with each group taking on a different issue, and/or a different conversation to practice.  
  3. Look to see if it would be beneficial to change any other standard practices in the workplace in some way. What about meeting schedules and agendas? Personnel issues? Policies and procedures? This could be a chance to make helpful changes in other areas, and to use the productive conversations to make the changes happen. 
  4. It is critically important to select the set of new practices – for communications and interactions – that group members agree are important and need to be implemented. Once the decisions above are made, get specific about:
  • What, exactly will be done, or implemented? By whom?
  • When will it begin? 
  • How will we know it is being done?
  • Who will be responsible for seeing that it happens in certain situations?
  • Why do we think it is important that we encourage and support these actions? And, what will we say when we are asked why these new conversation changes matter to us?
  1. Finally, decide where to look for improvements. For example, the group could meet again in 1 month and compare thoughts on what people learned. Or, re-take the same Assessment in 1 month and see if there are any changes.

NOTE FOR FACILITATOR(S): Facilitate discussion – and take good notes!  It is helpful to capture decisions and ideas on a whiteboard or flip-chart where people can see the options as they are developed. It’s okay to hold a vote on different decisions. The notes you take in this stage can be helpful to refresh commitment and to pick up momentum for a next phase of improving workplace effectiveness.

Basic Recipe = Meet • Share information • Take notes • Discuss • More notes • Follow-up • Repeat

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