Can conversations impact the productivity and the bottom line?

Photo by Icons8 team on Unsplash

 

Judith E. Glaser, whom I had the privileged to be trained by, said “To get to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of the culture, which depends on the quality of relationships, which depends on the quality of conversations…”

Most of human beings get that conversations may not be easy, impact the way they interact with others and their relationships. However, I’m not sure that they realize how this is impacting their performance and their organization’s bottom line, which is probably why a very few works on this.

So, what can we say about this?

  • In this very intesresting study from MIT, The New Science of Building Great Teams, researchers equipped all the members of some teams with electronic badges that collected data on their individual communication behavior—tone of voice, body language, whom they talked to and how much, and more. With remarkable consistency, the data confirmed patterns of communication were the most important predictor of a team’s success. Not only that, but they are as significant as all the other factors—individual intelligence, personality, skill, and the substance of discussions—combined.

Patterns of communication, for example, explained why performance varied so widely among the seemingly identical teams in a bank’s call center. The best predictors of productivity were a team’s energy and engagement outside formal meetings. Together those two factors explained one-third of the variations in dollar productivity among groups. Drawing on that insight, the center’s manager revised the employees’ coffee break schedule so that everyone on a team took a break at the same time. That would allow people more time to socialize with their teammates, away from their workstations. Though the suggestion flew in the face of standard efficiency practices, the manager was baffled and desperate, so he tried it. And it worked: AHT (Average Handle Time) fell by more than 20% among lower-performing teams and decreased by 8% overall at the call center. Then the manager changed the break schedule at all 10 of the bank’s call centers (which employ a total of 25,000 people) and was forecasting $15 million a year in productivity increases. He has also seen employee satisfaction at call centers rise, sometimes by more than 10%.

Note: it’s not only about team building and creating a pleasant work atmosphere as it might seem from this example, it’s also about having difficult conversations (more on that in a future post).

  • In another study, when the University of Michigan Health System experimented giving explanations and apologies after medical malpractice with full disclosure, existing claims and lawsuits dropped from 262 in 2001 to 83 in 2007. This is another example of how a certain type of conversation (being transparent and empathetic rather than defensive and unapologetic) can have a direct impact on the bottom line.

Some of this seem obvious doesn’t it? We just have to build healthy relationships, talk in constructive ways, respect each other, understand others position, etc… But the thing is it is not that easy:

  1. Because we don’t see our own impact. We have blind spots. And we more easily tend to blame others, or the organization, or the system than to take a look at ourselves.
  2. Because even when we are aware of it, it’s hard to control our emotions and reactions. The primitive brain has been developed for thousands of years to enable you to survive, triggering a fight, flight or freeze reaction as soon as there is distrust or even just uncertainty (If you work with other human beings, you probably know what it feels to be triggered by someone and then to react, to be protective and to defend your position, your work or your decision, trying to prove the other wrong, or to shut down).
  3. Because it requires efforts, time and energy to pause, learn, reflect and practice things that don’t seem directly related to the end result we are trying to achieve. This is where realizing that these conversations have an quantitative impact on our performance as individuals, teams and organizations is important.

Learning about how conversations impact our brain and consequently the outcome we are trying to achieve when interacting with others can help in many ways:

  • It enables to understand ourselves and others better and brings science where we usually put judgment
  • It gives teams and organizations a common language to express what’s going on and to address the conversations which are most important but avoided
  • It gives tools to practice to develop bonds, trust and transparency within leadership teams and at any level of businesses and organizations, with an end result of more focus, more productivity, a greater success and an increased bottom line.

By the way, this also applies to other areas in life: sport, personal relationships, etc…

So, as a first step, I’m inviting you to just pay attention to the conversations you and people in your organization are having every day, and notice how they impact, in a positive or negative way your job or your organization and your experience of your job or organization, your life and your experience of your life.

And if you live in the Grand Rapids area, I am inviting you to join me with Good For Michigan at the “Mind your Business” workshop on August 21st 8.30am (more details Here). We’ll focus on the neuroscience of conversations and how that can help you create a more trustful environment and a more focused and productive organization leading to an increased bottom line.

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