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Workplace study during pandemic finds managers should talk less, listen more

For communications professionals, remote work made it harder for them to build trusting new relationships. They, like others, felt isolated, missing critical conversations and small talk.

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Photoo by Vana Ash from Unsplash.com

Workplace communication often took a back seat this past year, as employees and employers rushed to work remotely, struggled with technology barriers and adjusted to physical distancing. But the pandemic has resulted in valuable lessons for communicating on the job, according to a Baylor University study.

During the onset of COVID-19 — along with accompanying layoffs and a recession — “there likely has never been a moment with such demand for ethical listening to employees,” said lead author Marlene S. Neill, Ph.D., associate professor of journalism, public relations and new media at Baylor.

“Ethical listening” was defined by one communication manager as “listening with an open mind and being able to hear the good, the bad and the ugly. Strategic listening is then taking the good and the bad and the ugly and knowing how to use the information.”

For the study, published in the Journal of Communication Management, researchers interviewed 30 communication professionals in the District of Columbia and 13 states in the USA: Arkansas, California, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington. Interviewees represented technology, financial and legal services, food and beverage, hospitality, energy, health care, trade associations, transportation, higher education and consultants.

The professionals interviewed stressed the importance of protecting confidentiality so employees feel comfortable giving feedback and do not fear retribution.

When COVID-19 hit and workers often no longer shared physical quarters, the use of Zoom soared, whether for large group meetings or one-on-one sessions, researchers noted. And while senior managers valued communication, it became less of a priority as companies made such quick changes as mandated quarantines.

For communications professionals, remote work made it harder for them to build trusting new relationships. They, like others, felt isolated, missing critical conversations and small talk.

“We heard that the pandemic posed challenges in internal communication due to the alienation many employees experienced, and it prompted us to reevaluate the moral responsibility communications holds for keeping employees feeling connected to their teams,” said co-researcher Shannon A. Bowen, Ph.D., professor of journalism and mass communications at the University of South Carolina.

The study shed light on companies’ challenges, how they strove to meet them and how they might use those strategies in the future.

For example, a communication manager for a trade association of the hospitality industry said that its members also are primary stakeholders in their companies.

“There were stakeholders who were saying, ‘I’m going to have to close my doors. Please do something.’ And there’s only so much we can do. It called for a different type of empathetic listening. This is these people’s livelihood. In hospitality, that’s like any business owner, that’s their baby. But it’s not just their baby. It’s a baby that generates income for the employees they deeply care about. It’s not just that it impacts them; it impacts their employees, which is a double cut to the heart.”

Meanwhile, a communication manager in health care encouraged senior leaders to schedule 30-minute “walk-around” sessions — whether masked and in person or via technology.

“Trust has to be built with actions and follow-through, not just words,” Bowen said.

For all the organizations studied, “the desire and follow-through to ethically listen to employees appeared to be a challenge,” Neill said.

Most participants said the ratio of management messaging to employees compared to feedback was lopsided, with far more talking than listening.

“We cannot promise we are going to fix everything,” said a communication manager in the financial services industry. “But we have the mantra if you are asking for feedback, it is critical that you close the loop and say that.”

Communications managers often have limited staff to analyze feedback. They also contend with a lack of communication between departments, especially in larger organizations.

To solve those problems, some communications professionals suggested having a team member to sit in on department meetings and serve as a liaison. One professional in a law firm said she makes it a point to invite the less vocal members to share their thoughts, while another uses on-on-one meetings for them.

“They open up a lot more when it’s just one on one,” she said. “In groups, large groups, they do not speak as freely, because there’s a hierarchy. If the older, more senior people are not saying anything, then the younger less seasoned attorneys more than likely will not say anything.”

Some internal communicators also said that during the pandemic, they saw a need for shorter, more focused meetings, in part to cut down on stress. And one consultant said that more visual communications, such as videos and video conferencing, seemed to help employees feel that they are cared for.

“I’m making sure that I have my eyes trained on the screen on the facial expressions,” said a communication manager for a trade association. “Part of active listening is also looking for visual cues of the reactions of your colleagues.”

Neill said the researchers were encouraged by the heightened level of empathy for the impact of organizational decisions on employees’ lives.

“We recommend that senior leadership and communication professionals seek ways to continue to improve moral sensitivity well after the global pandemic has receded, which can lead to more ethical decision-making,” she said.

Strategies

4 Tips on doing business in a digital world

Doing business in a digital world requires end-to-end approach.

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By Lesley Salmon
Kellogg Company SVP, Global Chief Information Officer

It’s no secret that technological advances will continue to improve consumers’ experiences. While CIOs will always be responsible for keeping their organizations safe, secure, and sustained, successful businesses must harness the power of new digital solutions to drive better business decisions, and outcomes and ultimately grow the business.   

Depending on who you ask, doing business in a digital world can mean different things. To some, it means adopting consumer-facing digital offerings like e-commerce, mobile apps, and digital marketing; to others, it means digitizing operations and processes internally. To continuously evolve and adapt to forever-changing consumer expectations, CIOs must take an end-to-end approach to digital – focusing on four areas:  People, Process, Technology, and Data & Analytics. If you do this, you will realize the value it can add to your organization. 

1. Focus on your people.

For me, it’s all about people – having the right people delivering through great partnerships with the key stakeholders across the business, understanding their needs, pre-empting, and then responding to them. A recent Gartner poll stated that talent is a top challenge for CIOs in 2022. To attract and retain the right people, we need to satisfy their hunger to experiment, fail fast and learn.

When our Kellogg IT team told us they didn’t see enough growth opportunities, we knew we needed to take a new approach to learning and development. We built our Year of Development Always (YODA) initiative with a vision to cultivate our childhood curiosity and an eagerness to learn. We created several tracks in the program for technical training, career strategies, and shadow programs to help our colleagues learn and explore new facets of the overall IT function.  The program has seen great results, team engagement is at an all-time high.

2. Don’t frown on the word process; embrace it.

When we think of ‘process,’ many people immediately imagine a rigid and inflexible approach. I challenge this perspective – we sometimes have to slow down, to speed up. Processes can be flexible while still providing structure for business growth – they’re what drive progress every day!

Part of doing this is closely linked with People because Process can be about engaging business colleagues at the right time with the right solutions. Being a trusted partner means bringing the company along the digital journey with us, which is essential for our future success.

3. Integrate technologies that delight consumers and drive better business outcomes.

We know that building scale and leveraging our platforms will deliver value for the business, but what about delighting our consumers?

In 2020 a team member attended an event and learned that more than 2 million people in the UK live with sight loss and cannot simply read the information on packaging. It sparked an idea to add NaviLens technology to our packaging, allowing visually impaired people to access all of the information on our packaging via their smartphones – either by having it played aloud or by using accessibility tools.

We partnered with our Packaging and Design team and launched a successful pilot making Kellogg the first ‘food’ company in the world to include NaviLens technology on our packaging.

Our company’s purpose is for everyone to have a place at the table, and we want all consumers to be able to access important information about the foods we sell.

4. Making better business decisions with data and insights.

Data has always been available but never in the abundance that it is today. While CIOs may not manage every corporate data program, the IT function is critical in ensuring commercial and functional teams understand what data is available and use it to fuel insight-driven actions.  

At Kellogg, we’ve re-imagined our data & analytics approach and focus on data ownership, quality, ethics, and governance. This is the recipe for making better business decisions.  

The real magic happens when you join forces with other business areas, like Marketing, to combine our insights and analytics capabilities with innovation, e-commerce, and more. This has allowed us to create a rich omnichannel experience that ensures we have the right foods, attractive pricing, and tailoring the right message to our diverse consumers.  

Freeing data from silos is critical to meet consumer needs and preparing for the future consumer experience. We recently commissioned research that looks at what consumer shopping trends we can anticipate by 2035; we are making investments to prepare for those consumer expectations.

For example, in 2035 and beyond, the retail environment will fit the needs of each shopper. Shoppers will see the personalization of products and shopper journeys as a baseline expectation to fit their unique attitudes and needs. Traditional online and offline environments will become increasingly integrated, supplemented with AI and innovative technologies to offer data-driven capabilities. 

Final thought…

Digital is the driving force behind any business, and IT is in the driver’s seat. Commercial business leaders can and should partner with their IT teams to help prepare for digital shifts to create more personalized experiences that create brand affinity.

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Strategies

Tips on how to avoid a debt trap

Here are some practical tips to help better manage, stabilize, and avoid a debt trap.

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According to CNBC, an average American has over $90,000 in debt. Accumulating debt is not only a financial burden – it can be mentally and emotionally taxing as a borrower finds themselves trapped in debt because the high-interest charges keep piling on. 

Steve Sexton, financial consultant and CEO of Sexton Advisory Group, shares some practical tips to help better manage, stabilize, and avoid a debt trap.

  • An emergency fund is essential. “Aside from budgeting and living within your means, having an emergency fund for unexpected expenses is one of the best ways to avoid going into debt in the first place,” says Sexton. “Plan to have at least 6 months’ worth of expenses saved in this fund, which can help you financially weather a temporary crisis and keep things running until the situation stabilizes.”
  • Consolidate various loans under a single one. “Taking on multiple loans at different interest rates beyond one’s capacity to repay can be resolved by taking on a single loan,” adds Sexton. “By doing so, the borrower can simplify their finances and no longer need to worry about remembering multiple repayment dates. This step can help the borrower better emerge from a debt trap.”
  • Leverage cash flow to prepay high-cost debt. “An important factor to streamline your repayments and avoid debt traps is to use a temporary inflow of funds to prepay debt with high-interest rates,” says Sexton. “These include annual bonuses or capital gains on share sales which can be used to prepay personal, credit card, or auto loans. When loans with high-interest rates are repaid, you are effectively saving the extra amount that would otherwise have gone towards the higher interest charges.”

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Strategies

3 Tips to include in a business crisis plan

To better protect businesses and their people, emergency preparedness experts from Rentokil North America and their family brands, Steritech and Ambius, shared three elements to incorporate into a weather-related hazard mitigation plan.

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Across the world, natural disaster events are on the rise. Climbing temperatures pave the way for an increase in droughts, wildfires, floods and other weather emergencies. In 2021, United States natural disasters created more than $145 billion in economic damage, three times the amount originally estimated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Federal Emergency Management Association estimates that about 25 percent of businesses do not reopen after experiencing a weather-related disaster. Without a plan in place, one weather emergency leading to a power outage, flood or property damage may be all it takes to force a company or business to close its doors permanently.

To better protect businesses and their people, emergency preparedness experts from Rentokil North America and their family brands, Steritech and Ambius, shared three elements to incorporate into a weather-related hazard mitigation plan. Business owners and operators can use these tips to establish a plan and better protect their employees, customers and business.

Tip One: Prepare for Power Outages

Power outages can happen anytime, anywhere. A nearby accident can take out power lines resulting in a local outage. Heavy rain, high winds or extreme temperatures from severe storms can also lead to a regional or widespread outage. Business owners may not be able to prevent a power outage from happening, but planning ahead and incorporating step-by-step instructions for the business’s unique needs can help prevent the loss of temperature-controlled products.

Conduct an extensive walkthrough of the facility and make note of any temperature-controlled products or power-reliant vulnerabilities. Include clear instructions for handling these products in the case of a power outage and ensure resources are readily and easily available. 

Consider having a paper log on hand in order to manually monitor and document product and food temperatures as long as it is safe to remain in the building or if the power outage is confirmed to be brief. Avoid opening reach-in and walk-in cooler doors as much as possible to keep items cold. A freezer in good condition may maintain its temperature for up to 24 hours if unopened.

“When a power outage impacts temperature-controlled products, discard any foods that may have been in the cooling or warming process,” advised Paula Herald, Technical Consultant at Steritech. “Don’t take chances trying to cool down hot foods; discard in the interest of food safety.”

Tip Two: Address Air Quality Concerns

Flash floods and wildfires continue to sweep across the United States releasing toxins, bacteria, smoke and other harmful pathogens into the air. These contaminants infect the air and seep into floors, walls and furniture, linger long after the flood or fire subsides. Exposure to these pollutants can be highly dangerous to people and can lead to heart and lung problems, eye and skin irritation and a number of other health-related issues.

Do not enter a space that has been impacted by a flood or fire without first receiving approval from health and safety officials. Once the area is deemed safe to enter, assess all structural damage, look for signs of smoke damage or mold and dispose of anything that can not be washed, rinsed and disinfected such as furniture and carpet. Air decontamination units can be used to help remove any remaining airborne toxins, gases and pollutants.

“The increased frequency of natural disasters is having a significant impact on air quality,” said Matt Hayas, Director of Product and Innovation at Ambius. “Business owners can address indoor air quality concerns by investing in specialized air decontamination units designed to effectively remove 99.9999% of air pollutants before, during and after severe weather situations.”

Tip Three: Remove Destruction and Debris

Natural disasters can leave behind damaged roofs, broken windows, fallen trees and other destruction and debris. Structural damage and piled-up debris are not only safety hazards, they can also create the perfect harborage for rodents, insects, birds and other pests looking to build a new home.

Once the weather emergency has passed, it’s important to conduct an extensive walk-through of the property. Identify any open access points and move any fallen trees and debris as far away from the building as possible.

“A minimum distance of 25 feet is recommended to keep pests from entering the building,” said Nancy Troyano at Rentokil. “Rodents can fit through holes as small as one-fourth an inch so it’s critical to conduct a thorough inspection of the building, before and after a storm hits.”

Dealing with the aftermath of a weather-related disaster can be overwhelming and costly. A pre-established hazard mitigation plan can save businesses up to $13 dollars per $1 dollar invested (National Institute of Building Sciences). As climate change continues to advance, the threat of weather emergencies may soon be a reality for many across the country. Be proactive and establish a plan before a disaster strikes. Incorporate these tips into a crisis plan to better protect businesses, properties and the people they serve.

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