How to manage a positive employee voice

Post by Blaire Rowland

Wednesday 31 October 2018

Steve Bernard, founder and managing director of Connectwell – The Relationship Company, is a professional coach and organisational development specialist.

He delivered an insightful session on employee voice at the IC Space Live event. In this interview he delves into this again, while also discussing how all IC practitioners can be leaders and the best ways of developing great stakeholder relationships.


What does employee voice mean to you?

Employee voice is all about sustainable conversations, with consistent listening and feedback points between an organisation and its people.

A global HR director once described to me how they think about employee voice and it really stuck with me. She invited me to imagine each colleague as a single neural cell that fits together to make up the organisational brain. By tapping into the collective wisdom of all colleagues, the organisation gets access to ‘whole brain thinking’.

People really are an organisation’s greatest asset so why wouldn’t we want to make decisions based on ‘whole braining logic’!


What creates positive employee voice?

I think the most important thing is integrity (which is one of MacLeod’s four enablers). Doing something with integrity really adds value, in other words being trust worthy, being consistent and being honest.

We’ve had some clients who have made a good attempt at engaging with employee voice but weren’t consistent and lacked follow up. This can negatively affect an organisations’ culture and lead to colleagues feeling cynical.


What challenges creating successful employee voice?

Senior leaders can really affect an organisation’s culture and far too often management styles can become too prescriptive or unambitious. Some organisations that Connectwell encounter are well intended but may lack the skill or confidence to try new and innovative approaches.


How can we help our senior leaders overcome this?

A big theme for me is appropriate challenge and being a critical friend.

The strongest communications practitioners know that the best way to influence someone can be to first help them unlearn something or let go of a belief they had before.

Senior stakeholders can be risk adverse, so recognising this, having strong examples and explaining why something might not be as risky as they initially thought can really help influence them.

I’d also recommend not just relying on statistics but telling stories to help stakeholders understand the value of a new approach. Humanising data and reaching someone on a personal level can be really powerful when influencing.


Have you got any tips for building great stakeholder relationships?

Showing that you are genuinely interested, as well as some vulnerability gives you the ability to be interesting and can help you create a more genuine two-way conversation. Be prepared and consider what is going on in their world and the impact of that.

Also, appreciating what a senior stakeholder is going through and talking about their concerns is integral for nurturing that relationship.

If you don’t put effort into this then your relationship can be really transactional. You need to go beyond just doing something for them by earning their trust and respect. They are often focused only on solutions and finding answers.

I once challenged a risk adverse Chief Executive in a boardroom and through my advice and by openly asking for their trust I was able to gain his support. It was the right thing to do and our innovative approach surpassed the whole board’s expectations once we put it into action.


What do you think about leadership?

I am a believer that anyone can be a leader and challenge the status quo if they have good intent.

Connectwell firmly believe that leadership is non-hierarchical – for us leadership is all about behaviours. If someone can read the context of a situation and challenge appropriately then they have leadership potential.

I’d also say that even if you are at the beginning of your career don’t be afraid to speak up when someone is more senior than you or has more experience. Be respectful but remember to be equals and always be ready to jump into idea mode.


How do you think IC practitioners can be most helpful to senior leaders?

If you’re an IC professional you need to trust yourself and be confident.

Be prepared to go with your gut if you really feel strongly about a challenge, or want to support something that is slightly outside of the norm. I always think that if you can answer the following question in a positive way then it is an appropriate challenge:

Do you have good intent to the organisation and the colleagues you are communicating with?

Remember – you have the capacity to make your own choices and the capability to demonstrate leadership regardless of who you are.