Tips for Talking About Workplace Culture

SHRM is encouraging People Managers and HR professionals to use the art and tool of conversation to improve workplace cultures.

But where to start?

It begins with making a personal commitment to start the process and plan a one-on-one culture conversation. Think through topics and conversation starters germane to the workplace issues you want to address. Are our benefits supporting employee engagement across generations? Does our culture attract candidates that excel? Are employees of all backgrounds gaining access to learning and leadership opportunities?

Next, decide on a conversation partner. Identify an employee who is “plugged in” to other employees and the culture and can provide insights beyond your own. Remember that this is an opportunity for learning and discovery of a diversity of viewpoints, so make sure, going forward, that these conversations feature a mixture of many voices in the organization. 

Time and place is important. Choose a convenient, neutral setting and incorporate an activity, such as lunch, coffee, a walk, etc. The conversation should have an element of fun and socialization. To that end, consider extending the invite in person or over the phone, rather than in an online meeting request, to maintain a social, rather than business, tone.

To prepare for the discussion, make sure you are in the right mindset. Analyze and discard any preconceptions or unconscious biases you have about the discussion and your conversation partner. Open your mind to all possibilities!

Now to begin. First, set expectations. Explain why you are interested in the employee’s views and what the outcomes of the conversation might be. Focus on building trust, transparency and assurances of privacy and confidentiality.

As you converse, stay in the moment. Don’t try to address problems or issues right then, but be an active listener. Ask good questions and go where the conversation leads, so you are capturing and processing the employee’s views and ideas, not just responding to them. Using “I” and “we” messages supports the collaborative approach that ignites change.

After the conversation, make sure you record your discoveries and and observations while they are still fresh. And be sure to keep the conversation going!

Next week, we’ll explore how to turn those conversations into an action plan for culture change.