The new HR mantra: The communicator gets the job done

By definition, a manager is a communicator. He wields words as a tool to stitch together a disparate set of individuals. Now, how do managerial conversations play out on a corporate pitch “doctored” by the pandemic?

Organisations are puzzling out the possibilities for a post-pandemic world: Going entirely-remote, going hybrid; getting entirely back to the cubicle; or offering all options and letting employees take their pick.

The last scenario can drive the manager to a communication conundrum: Locked up in a Tower of Babel, with a team that shares organisational goals, and little else besides that.

Picture this. Four employees working within the manger’s line of sight, right outside his cubicle. Three employees logging in from three different geographies. Three employees plucked straight out of college, and hired on a fully remote arrangement.

Vicky Paul (name changed) experienced the downside of that last scenario: Being bundled into a team with which he has had no social investment.

“Of the eight members in our team, five are seniors, but the group calls are kept chillingly to the point, and have nothing to offer beyond the minutiae of work,” says Vicky, unconnected, disappointed and on the verge of quitting his first job, barely 10 months into it.

Could Vicky have been spared this despair, if the manager had engaged in more “communication rituals”, which Kamal Karanth, co-founder of specialist staffing company, Xpheno, describes as a sine qua non for effective team management in the future.

Voice matters

“In an entirely physical workplace, managers had a style of communication which they rightly believed also percolated to people who they did not communicate directly to. The second part is that managers really understood if it got communicated to the next layer. What was implicitly communicated was received as well as that which was explicitly communicated. Now, in the new remote model, the only thing they can measure is what has been explicitly communicated. And there is no way of figuring out whether the implicitly-communicated got received. But the managers who engage in more and newer communication rituals run their teams more effectively than others, in this new context. While the remote model may largely be about people’s ability to read the text — whether it is texting, emailing and using advanced text-based communication platforms — it is noticed that a majority of employees are not optimally communicative in these channels. Managers who add voice more often to their communication strategy — video calls and calls — are known to be nailing it,” elaborates Karanth.

This observation about “communication rituals” leads one to an appreciation of James W Carey’s understanding of communication as serving dual roles: Disseminating information; and enabling social rituals.

Cultural onboarding 

Having these added communication rituals, and persisting with them are particularly critical in the areas of remote “cultural onboarding” and training.

Vidur Gupta, director of Spectrum Talent Management, notes that building a team is essentially about having more interactions. In a remote-work model, the manager has to be adept at using tech-tools to effect more connections. Vidur however underlines the limits of technology.

“You cannot put an organisation’s culture into the person working from home.”

No matter what models a company has adopted, Vidur continues, there is no substitute for “cubicle interactions” in organically and effectively instilling organisational culture in employees. Besides, “It is important to be in office to build the thought process and create accountability.” So, periodic in-office collaborations have to be made mandatory.

He says understanding a company’s culture makes a difference in roles that have to do with customer service.

Mapping workflows

In the afore-mentioned alternative work models, leaders may have to create those rituals, sometimes painstakingly, to just get the work done.

With a hodgepodge of work models to deal with, the manager may have difficulty mapping the “inter-dependencies” among team members.

Naresh Purushotham, chief mentor, Crestcom India, believes managers now require a highly evolved style of communication to have this mapping done.

“Every job has a certain output which becomes the input for the next person. Let us say I am in recruitment, my job has to do with screening and shortlisting CVs and my colleague’s job is to set up interviews from the short-listed CVs. Unless I give that quality output, they are not going to be able to do their job effectively. In distributed teams of the kind we witness today, to make a team member aware of their ‘connectivity’ in the team, and find out if they are fulfilling that vital link, the manager has to communicate in whole new ways to get team members’ to understand and act on their inter-dependencies.”

‘Emotional intelligence, a key factor’

Let us face it: Managers — a good number of them, at least — are bound to be out of their depth in situations that have them dealing with team members working in different formats.

Studies point out that many managers are likely to harbour biases against team members who have opted for remote work.

Sunney Tharappam, director, College for Leadership and HRD, believes a manager’s emotional intelligence — or the lack of it — will decide how he counters any biases that can crop up in this unfamiliar situation.

He says: “Based on Fred Fielder’s contingency model theory on situations, when one is faced with a new situation, there is a possibility of becoming a victim of the situation; or a manipulator; or, an engineer of the situation. A manager would need great depth of emotional intelligence to be able to define certain equalities for both online and offline team members.”

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Printable version | Aug 12, 2022 11:39:08 am |