I have been doing some consulting work with a multi-national company recently, a company that has over two hundred brewing and bottling facilities all over the world. The company is well established, its oldest plants being almost two hundred years old. I imagine success partly can be attributed to the quality and desirability of its products – alcoholic and non-alcoholic thirst-quenchers, the brands of which are known and loved internationally. Behind these brands, however, are well-developed systems and processes that have been designed and modified over time to establish effectiveness and efficiency in the production processes and retain quality and consistency in the respective products. The same goes a long way to establishing customer loyalty and the trustworthiness of the brand. Quality is ensured.

Apart from the above, however, of particular significance in one of the plants, I found the Human Resources Manager allocating time to interview staff personally to establish needs within the business – assessing the organisational “vital signs”, the wellness of the culture and the developmental needs of all staff. Not just satisfied with the results of the online culture audit survey which is conducted annually, she was attempting to understand the nuances of the report through listening to feelings expressed by the individuals on the shop floor. She wanted to get to grips with the real issues and address them directly. She represented a “pocket of excellence” within the company.

Some of the issues that leadership should be “listening for” include the following:

  • The levels of trust within the organisation – low levels of trust between individuals, departments and management need to be rectified. Trustworthiness is achieved primarily through proper behaviour – character and competence need to be in place for someone or a team to be deemed to be trustworthy.
  • Communication deficiencies – blockages to the free-flow of information, purposeful withholding of information and the imparting of insufficient information impede growth and stunt processes. Communication is the life-blood of the organisation and should be encouraged across seniority levels.
  • Relational difficulties – careful attention should be given to counsel parties appropriately to foster good working relations. The same engenders teams that can work well together.
  • Emotional dissonance – frustration, confusion and hurt, if unattended, ultimately produce anger. Handling such issues sensitively and swiftly shows employees that the leadership cares.
  • Developmental opportunities – up-skilling possibilities should be available for all employees. The same will produce greater senses of self-worth and personal value, possibly translating into better productivity and quality on the shop floor.
  • Leadership inadequacies – coaching may be necessary to address leadership style deficiencies. Good leadership has an enormous positive effect on employee well-being.

A reliance on the results of culture audits alone may prove to be insufficient in the gathering of pertinent information for the rectification of gaps within an organisation’s cultural “vital signs”. Taking time to listen for the purpose of developing understanding is essential for a holistic grasp of the emotional reality on the shop floor. The real needs should thus be identified.

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