A couple of years ago, I reviewed the book Talk, Inc.  In it, authors Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind draw on the experience of leaders in organizations around the world, who are using the power of conversation to increase employee engagement and strategic alignment. I thought it might be helpful to look at Talk, Inc. again in light of the changing nature of work with so many employees working remotely over the last year and how that has impacted how leaders communicate with them and engage them.

Groysberg and Slind assert that  “…. people–and the energies and capabilities that lie inside them–are the ultimate source of optimal performance and sustainable competitive advantage.”  They have found thriving organizations are using organizational conversation to engage the best in their people to drive performance.

Organizational conversation, in their words,  replicates the elements of good person-to-person conversation where the scale of the conversation is small and intimate; the structure of the conversation is dynamic and interactive; participation is equal and inclusive and the approach is focused and intentional.

Where they have seen organizational conversation flourishing, it has the following four elements:

Intimacy – leaders reduce the distance, institutional as well as spatial–that separate them from their employees. They do this by cultivating the art of listening to people at all levels of the organization and by learning to talk with those people in ways that are personal, honest, and authentic.

Interactivity – leaders talk with employees not just to them. Cultural norms are now favoring dialogue over monologue and changes in the technology of communication especially with social media, support this shift.

Inclusion – leaders invite all employees to add their ideas into the conversational mix. And they call upon employees to participate in the work of representing their organization as unofficial bloggers or trained brand ambassadors.

Intentionality – leaders promote conversation that develops and follows an agenda that aligns with the strategic objectives of their organization.

It is easy to see how each of these elements can be included in every day in-person communications, but can be a stretch when adapting to virtual environments. With many employees working remotely in organizations due to the pandemic, leaders have had to pivot and adapt to communicating in virtual environments, some with greater or less success.

In a national organization I’ve been working with, we have managed to leverage virtual meetings and online platforms to increase opportunities for conversation, problem-solving, and contribution among our members. I’ve seen interactivity and inclusion increase over the last year as leaders have promoted true dialogue in remote forums.

In your opinion, can leaders replicate person-to-person conversation in remote environments? If so, what works best? What advice do you have for integrating intimacy, interactivity, inclusion, and intentionality into virtual workplace conversations and meetings?

Anita Rios

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