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Conversation failures are killing employee engagement and bottom lines

Cnversation failures in the workplace are both rampant and costly. How costly? Forty-three percent of respondents estimate they waste two weeks or more ruminating about an unresolved problem at work. And an astounding one in three employees estimate their inability to speak up in a crucial moment has cost their organization at least $25,000. 

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A new survey by Crucial Learning, a learning company with courses in communication, performance, and leadership, shows that conversation failures in the workplace are both rampant and costly. How costly? Forty-three percent of respondents estimate they waste two weeks or more ruminating about an unresolved problem at work. And an astounding one in three employees estimate their inability to speak up in a crucial moment has cost their organization at least $25,000. 

In addition to astronomical price tags on conversation failures, the December 2021 study of 1,100 people by Crucial Learning found that we are resorting to silence in alarming moments. Participants said the costliest conversation they avoid is when someone shows disrespect for another in the workplace—a conversation that didn’t even rank among the costliest conversations in a similar survey conducted in 2016. While this shift may indicate more awareness of workplace inequality, it also shows awareness doesn’t lead to action. Even when people observe harmful disrespect, they fail to speak up.

According to the study, 29 percent more participants said their workplace cultures were more supportive of people speaking up now than they were in 2016. And yet instead of speaking up, we resort to a host of harmful, resource-sapping behaviors including:

–  Complaining to others (77 percent)
–  Doing extra or unnecessary work (63 percent)
–  Ruminating about the problem (57 percent)
–  Getting angry (49 percent)

As a result, 43 percent of respondents say their silence has cost the organization more than $10,000, while 30 percent tabbed the amount at more than $25,000 and a troubling 19 percent admitted their reluctance cost at least $50,000.

The top five Crucial Conversations people avoid include:

  • When someone is not pulling his or her weight (68 percent)
  • When someone performs below expectations (66 percent)
  • When someone shows disrespect towards another in the workplace (57 percent – also identified as the number one most costly conversation)
  • When someone doesn’t follow proper processes or protocol (53 percent)
  • When there is confusion on who owns a decision (53 percent)

Beyond the draw-dropping dollar figures, the secondary costs are also alarming. Respondents report that these conversation failures had damaging effects to employee morale, relationships, corporate culture and project timelines and budgets.

Joseph Grenny, coauthor of the new third edition of the national bestseller Crucial Conversations, says the pandemic and its revolutionary effects have amplified the importance of effective communication. Less than half (45 percent) of respondents say they or others are moderately skilled at holding these work-related Crucial Conversations and an abysmal 9 percent say they are very or extremely skilled at holding them.

As employee anxieties have grown and led to the Great Resignation and extreme burnout, organizations must invest in their employees’ interpersonal skills to build strong relationships and secure bottom line results.

“One of the costliest barriers to organizational performance is unresolved Crucial Conversations,” Grenny said. “If you can’t communicate with your leaders and colleagues, you can’t develop the relationships that are necessary to combat the hard times we’re seeing today. The ability to engage in dialogue is key to successfully leading through and beyond the pandemic.”

Grenny advises organizations interested in curbing the costs of failed conversations to train their employees how to voice their concerns quickly and effectively, including these four tips:

  • Reverse your thinking. Most of us decide whether or not to speak up by considering the risks of doing so. Those who are best at Crucial Conversations don’t think first about the risks of speaking up, they think first about the risks of not speaking up.
  • Change your emotions. The reason our Crucial Conversations go poorly is because we are irritated, angry, or disgusted. Others react to these emotions more than our words. So, before opening your mouth, open your mind. Try to see others as reasonable, rational, and decent human beings—a practice that softens strong emotions and ensures you come across more agreeably.
  • Make others feel safe. The unskilled conversationalists believe certain topics are destined to make others defensive. Skilled realize people don’t become defensive until they feel unsafe. Start a high-stakes conversation by assuring the other person of your positive intentions and your respect for them. When others feel respected and trust your motives, they feel safe, let their guard down and begin to listen – even if the topic is unpleasant.
  • Invite dialogue. After you create an environment of safety, express your concerns, and then invite dialogue. Encourage the other person to disagree with you. Those who are best at Crucial Conversations don’t just come to make their point; they come to learn.

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Emojis make tourism advertising on social media more effective, appealing

The use of emojis in online messages about tourism destinations facilitates processing and reduces ambiguity, especially when the recipients encounter content with low levels of congruence.

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The use of congruent messages and emojis when promoting tourist destinations on social media leads to greater user attention. This strategy helps users to process the information effectively and reduces their cognitive effort. More specifically, the use of emojis in online messages about tourism destinations facilitates processing and reduces ambiguity, especially when the recipients encounter content with low levels of congruence.

This is according to a research – “The effect of online message congruence, destination-positioning, and emojis on users’ cognitive effort and affective evaluation” – that was published in the Journal of Destination Marketing & Management.

The study, which was carried out at the University of Granada’s Mind, Brain and Behaviour Research Centre (CIMCYC), consisted of an experiment using eye-tracking techniques on 60 users of the social network Facebook. These individuals underwent a series of experimental procedures in which the researchers manipulated the level of congruence between the messages of those posting and the users, the use or omission of emojis in the content, and the way in which the tourist destination was positioned in the media (natural environment, gastronomy, hotels, sun and beach).

The UGR research team, which includes Beatriz García Carrión, Francisco Muñoz Leiva, Salvador del Barrio García and Lucia Porcu, point out that the study “clearly illustrates the benefits in terms of the effectiveness of using congruent messages in marketing communications in general, and especially in digital communications via social media, as well as how the use of emojis contributes to improving users’ information processing, increasing their attention and reducing the cognitive effort involved. Moreover, congruent messages not only facilitate users’ information processing, but also improve their affective evaluation — a crucial aspect when it comes to making a decision on a tourist destination.”

The key findings included:

  • Importance of maintaining a high level of congruence in the information they convey through social media. As the researchers explain: “This involves systematically reviewing and managing comments across all communication channels to identify any comments that do not align with the destination’s desired positioning, with a view to mitigating potential negative effects.”
  • Pictorial representations (emojis) significantly enhance the overall comprehension of the information. However, the study did not find a significant impact of emojis on the formation of affective evaluations.
  • Tourism managers should focus on information related to the destination’s gastronomy and natural environment, rather than more conventional aspects such as sun and beach facilities or hotel offerings, as the former attract more attention and are perceived more favorably, even under low levels of congruence.

The research findings suggest a shift in the preferences of potential consumers towards more nature-based tourism. “Therefore, tourism managers should place greater emphasis on communicating aspects related to the environment and sustainability of the tourist destination in their social media posts, thereby reaping benefits in terms of visual attention and affective evaluations,” the researchers stressed.

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Study shows corporate misconduct at home hurts sales overseas

Consumers and investors increasingly read about unethical business practices globally and demonstrate their displeasure locally.

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New research in the Global Strategy Journal has bad news for companies struggling with corruption, discrimination, or sweatshops in their supply chain: corporate misconduct demonstrably hurts international sales. Consumers and investors increasingly read about unethical business practices globally and demonstrate their displeasure locally.

“Socially irresponsible acts transcend geographic boundaries and negatively affect foreign subsidiary performance,” said Nuruzzaman Nuruzzaman of the University of Manchester, one of the study’s authors.

Nuruzzaman, along with co-authors Erin E. Makarius and Debmalya Mukherjee of the University of Akron and Ajai Gaur of Rutgers, monitored the sales growth of 335 subsidiaries in 109 countries over nine years. They charted the growth alongside the number of corporate social irresponsibility (CSI) incidents reported against parent companies. Social irresponsibility hurt subsidiaries’ sales whether incidents occurred internationally or in the parent company’s home country.

“We weren’t looking at incidents that were local to the subsidiary,” said Makarius. “We wanted to explore how much negative news spreads globally and how stakeholders react to incidents beyond their borders. The data shows the location of misconduct no longer seems to matter. There’s still significant negative impact.”

The study also explored whether creating distractions could buffer the consequences of a parent company’s bad behavior. The researchers compared two methods of strategic noise: marketing campaigns and product innovations. Promotions, contests, and sales showed little ability to curb reputational damage, but introducing two or more product or service innovations could flip sales growth in a positive direction despite CSI incidents.    

“Perhaps consumers perceive marketing campaigns as hollow responses,” Mukherjee said. “Because innovation is more costly, it may create a stronger positive impact.”

While the study demonstrates that subsidiaries do have agency against negative media coverage of their parents’ activities, the authors emphasize that the larger takeaway concerns the potential fallout from CSI. Managers at parent companies and their subsidiaries abroad should be aware that misconduct even in distant locations can quickly impact international sales performance.

“Given the adverse impact of CSI on global performance that this study shows, global corporations should strive to uphold and implement strong ethical and social responsibility standards throughout their global operations,” Gaur said. “Moreover, they should prioritize transparent communications with subsidiaries so they can quickly mitigate the negative impact of socially irresponsible activities.”

To read the full context of the study and its statistical modeling methods, access the full paper available in the Global Strategy Journal.

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Cultivating relationships with former employees important – study

One of the biggest mistakes employers make is not supporting workers on their way out, and then turning around and saying they want to stay in touch.

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For many people, leaving a job can be like leaving a family — and because of the personal and professional bonds they’ve forged, many naturally stay in touch with their former coworkers and keep apprised of what’s happening in the organization.

But what happens when companies make a concerted effort to bolster those bonds, help former employees in their careers and keep them in the loop? According to new research from the UBC Sauder School of Business, it can have big benefits for both employees and employers.

For the paper, researchers studied a wide range of businesses — from top law firms to Starbucks — to understand why organizations are putting time and resources into solidifying ties with ex-employees, also known as alumni.

The researchers propose that alumni-organization relationships (AORs) are particularly important to companies because alumni have a unique mix of insider knowledge and outside-world information and contacts. This can be valuable if employees return as contractors, or move on to companies that might do business with their former employer. Companies can also gain a boost to branding and reputation because maintaining these relationships shows they support employees even after they move on.

“Traditionally, AORs were most common in professional service firms. But as it becomes more common for workers to job hop over the course of their career, we are seeing more organizations investing in relationships with alumni,” said UBC Sauder assistant professor Dr. Rebecca Paluch.

For some organizations, AORs help generate new business. Many law firms support AORs because junior lawyers move on and end up in general counsel roles new organizations. If they need to hire outside counsel, the continuing relationship with their former employer may encourage them to hire that firm.

Companies like Starbucks appreciate the fact that AORs boost their brand image in the community. “They call all of their stores ‘third communities’ because they want to make people feel welcome and like they’re part of something when they visit the stores,” said Dr. Paluch, who co-authored the study with Dr. Christopher Zatzick of Simon Fraser University and Dr. Lisa Nishii of Cornell University. “AORs are in line with the overall branding of building community and keeping people connected.”

Programs that support AORs can offer a variety of benefits to alumni, including newsletters and updates about alumni and the company, career resources, job boards, training and development opportunities and in-person networking.

One of the primary challenges in forming AORs is there is no set playbook, said Dr. Paluch. There are established norms for employee management when it comes to practices like hiring, compensation and benefits, but standard practices don’t exist for managing relationships with alumni after they move on.

In order to develop successful AORs, organizations need to think about their outreach to alumni through broad communication with a wide-range of alumni as well as strategically target alumni who can bring back the most value to the company. It’s also important to encourage current employees to stay in contact with alumni so they can help bring knowledge and resources back into the organization.

The most successful programs, she adds, involve input from former workers. “It’s important to make sure the organization is getting alumni feedback so they’re meeting their needs and not just offering things because some other company is doing it,” advised Dr. Paluch.

One of the biggest mistakes employers make is not supporting workers on their way out, and then turning around and saying they want to stay in touch. “If employees are having terrible exit experiences, then it shouldn’t be surprising if they don’t want to stay in touch after they leave.”

The idea of cultivating relationships between alumni and organizations might seem counterintuitive because it can make leaving more palatable, said Dr. Paluch. But savvy companies realize today’s workers are highly mobile, so it makes sense to keep a positive relationship even after they’re gone.

“We’ve been seeing tenure decline over the past few decades, and most employees move on to a new company after four or five years,” said Dr. Paluch. “Strategically, organizations might as well consider, ‘If we can’t keep them in the organization, how can we at least keep them connected to the organization?’”

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