How to Encourage a Culture of Open Communication

Jul 15, 2020

Positive employee sentiment has a significant influence on the productivity of your business. The first step to achieving this is to hire the right people for the job. The next step is to cultivate a culture that your employees never want to leave–meaning a culture where your employees’ thoughts and opinions are valued.

It’s important that all of your employees feel heard. They should be able to freely express the issues that are bothering them, as well as share any idea that comes to mind. It is through policies, management behavior, and intentional strategy that employees find the confidence and comfort to share their ideas and concerns. With a little work, any company can cultivate a culture of open communication.

Start by improving accessibility.

The first step to encouraging open communication is to make sure your employees actually have a place to communicate. Employees should feel comfortable knowing that they can reach out to their higher-ups should an issue or idea arise. However, the traditional hierarchy of business positions can sometimes make it intimidating, inconvenient, or even impossible for employees to effectively communicate with the people in charge–even in smaller companies. If you find that management is frequently traveling or unreachable to your workers, then it’s your responsibility to put strategies in place to give employees access to their managers’ attention.

A very simple approach is to always keep office doors open. A closed-door symbolizes division and signifies to those on the other side that you are not interested in holding a conversation with them. This can create a sense of intimidation and uncertainty when it comes time for an employee to speak to you. If you’re not in a meeting, then try to keep your office door open. Even better–invest in an office space that has an open floor plan. This will encourage employees to engage with each other as well, which will naturally lead to a culture of communication.

You could also look into technology that helps improve your accessibility. Services like VoIP, an internet-based phone service, give any computer or mobile device the capabilities of a phone. Your employees can be assured they can reach out to you and to each other whenever the need arises, no matter the distance. Similarly, tools like intranets, which are private company networks, create secure online spaces for sharing information and voicing concerns across departments. These types of technologies help businesses create a “digital” open-door policy, where company-wide updates and communications are easily accessible and updatable for each and every person you employ. Accessibility is the building block for open communication, so make sure that employees can reliably get ahold of each other when they have something to share.

Ask for input and feedback.

Once you’ve established that you’re available to be contacted, you’ll need to encourage people to reach out to you when they have something to share. To get people in the habit of giving their opinions, you could send out anonymous surveys asking for their opinion. These surveys can be used to understand company culture, gauge employee perception of upper management, measure the understanding of business operations, and to find out the overall sentiment of your workforce. Surveys get people into the habit of voicing their opinions so that they will feel comfortable communicating their thoughts and opinions.

It’s also a great idea to ask for face-to-face input and feedback as well. Whether it be in a staff meeting or one-on-one interaction, communicating face-to-face eliminates the need for a medium in order for communication to take place, and it makes it more likely for people to share their opinions on their own rather than waiting to be asked. This can also reduce some of the intimidation associated with sharing your thoughts with a manager or higher-up, as employees will be used to sharing their opinions in person.

Give employees opportunities to engage with upper management.

People feel more comfortable sharing their ideas when they are familiar with the person they’re talking to. That familiarity is built through consistent engagement. Engagement can come in a variety of forms, including but not limited to:

  • Regularly scheduled meetings between you and your employees

  • Weekly or monthly staff meetings

  • Offering open office hours

  • Non-business related social gatherings

  • Simply greeting people as you pass by them in the hall

These engagements allow for relationships, both professional and personal, to form, which will greatly improve overall company culture and make people more comfortable voicing their opinions and sharing their ideas. It’s also important that you’re encouraging interactions between your employees as well. Think about starting a peer-led mentorship program to help people interact with coworkers that they might not ordinarily get the chance to work with, or get the company involved in charity work and encourage employees to work together to create fundraisers. Opportunities like these can help them get involved in the company spirit. Not only will this help improve communication throughout the business, but it will also create employee loyalty, meaning a lower turn-over rate and a more productive workforce.

Take the time to recognize a job well done.

Recognition is a powerful tool that, when used right, fosters a positive and productive company culture. Not only does it encourage your employees to work hard and earn this recognition, but it instills self-worth into them and reminds them that they are a valuable asset to the company. This will help people find their voice and make them comfortable enough to use it, and create a community of people who are grateful for themselves and the people around them. Reward people who bring constructive criticism or game-changing ideas to the table. Publicly thank those who go above and beyond for the company. Encourage your employees to give gratitude to each other when they see one of their co-workers doing a great job. The more you do this, the more you’ll begin to notice a culture of appreciation and open communication start to form.

As founder and president of Chart Your Course International, Greg Smith is recognized as a leading authority on talent management, leadership development and employee retention. Smith helps executives and business owners accelerate individual and organizational performance and navigate change. He helps design strategies, workshops and training sessions to grow organizations and helps them create clearer direction, increased profitability, stronger executive teams, improved communication and happier and more productive employees.

Written by: Greg Smith

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