In the business of Executive Search, it is our job to provide our clients with the best possible talent. Likewise, we have to ensure candidates fit well into the new organization. Finding the ideal match that delivers the highest possible value for clients and candidates is, however, not easy – our track record shows we’re some of the best in the industry, but we never stop learning.
Here’s how we adopted a lesson from AirBnB to improve our own, internal communications.
Transparency, constructive dissent and open communication are all positive factors in the work environment. According to Forbes, a workplace which encourages open communication positively impacts business results. The benefits include trust, improved performance, a reduction in risk exposure, satisfied customers and the attraction and retention of elite talent. However, according to the Harvard Business Review, 42% of employees who admit to speaking up about work problems or ideas, also said they frequently withhold thoughts and opinions. Reasons cited are the belief it is a waste of time or fear of consequences from doing so. In our experience, this is particularly prevalent in middle management as junior staff feel they have nothing to lose and senior executives are expected to hold and exercise strong opinions.
So how do you take an ideal and make it a reality?
For us, the key is – Elephants, Stinky Fish and Vomit – a clever, catchy term coined by AirBnB. The idea they employ is to regularly address the elephant in the room, talk about old stinky issues and “vomit out” current thoughts and feelings. It has been hugely successful in creating a work environment of trust and belonging at AirBnb and so, naturally, this concept intrigued us.
Like many companies, we have always celebrated our wins. We know it is important to take a moment and pat ourselves on the back, review how far we’ve come and acknowledge our efforts, but what we didn’t do, until recently, was talk about “the bad stuff”.
... address the elephant in the room, talk about old stinky issues and “vomit out” current thoughts and feelings.
We are a start up. As you can imagine, there was a surplus of stresses, anxieties and, to some extent, grievances. However, we weren’t airing them. We decided to change this. We made it our company philosophy to build comfort around talking about “the bad stuff”. Not only that, it is encouraged. Every week, without fail, we take the time to celebrate our wins, talk about the week, and air our personal elephants, stinky fish and vomit.
What we have learned through its implementation, is this:
In order for there to be honesty, there must first be trust. A safe environment is imperative for a truly open and honest conversation. It is essential everyone, regardless of position, feels empowered to be candid without fear of negative, personal repercussions. The objective behind sharing is to listen and to take feedback without being defensive. There also needs to be consistency and a promise anything said behind somebody’s back is said to their face.
Talking openly is more polite than grumbling behind closed doors.
It is a simple, and extremely effective concept but not so simple in its execution. It goes against the grain. It turns instilled beliefs of respect and politeness on its head. But, what we have discovered is – being candid and airing out the closeted negativity garners respect. Talking openly is more polite than grumbling behind closed doors. Sharing grievances dissolves resentment and bad feeling. We can honestly say, through this process, our company is stronger and more aligned. Not only that, key concepts learned through the practice have even spilled out into our personal lives to great positive response.
Success is dependent on strong relationships, strong relationships are dependent on open and honest communication and open and honest communication is built on a foundation of elephants, stinky fish and vomit.
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