What Running a Communication Company Taught Me About Company Culture



BY JEN OLENICZAK BROWN

For the past almost eight years, I’ve been working with companies on their communication skills. From presentation prep to giving feedback to interpersonal communication, my job has never been boring – it’s a new challenge every single workshop we do because of the spectrum of people and businesses I get to work with. From newly formed startup to Fortune 100 companies, there are some trends regarding company culture that cross all boundaries. Here are the four standouts:

Communication Starts at the Top

 I can’t express this enough. We get called in for two major things: everything is wonderful and we want to do even better with all the things going on!

Or…

Everything is terrible and in upheaval and we need help. Very few incidents are “in-between” with this. In both situations, we advise that communication, specifically good communication skills, has to start at the top. If supervisors aren’t practicing active listening, clear communication, good feedback, and creating a failure-free space for people to talk, there’s going to be a lot of problems that won’t get “fixed” with a learning and development program or a teambuilding event. Full stop – even the “let’s do better” crowd needs clear communication from the top of the ladder.  

Don’t Ask If You Won’t

If a supervisor won’t do something, you better believe the team won’t. The healthiest cultures are those that have an “all hands” mentality – if there is something you’re asking an employee to do, and a supervisor refuses to do it as well, you’re going to have a hard time getting buy-in – at all. Here’s an example: we had a workshop on active listening for a financial firm. It was a three-hour workshop focused on building skills as well an action plan to continue learning – and none of the supervisors thought they needed the workshop, and flat out refused to participate. That’s not saying that you have to have everyone in on a workshop at the same time – these supervisors were in the room, and just refused to participate. One guess on how the team felt about that, and if it bled into the rest of the work environment. 

Fix Problems Before They Are Problems

Companies know when some things will be a problem. They just do – it’s usually the little things that are written off as an annoyance – one of those pesky things that “will just go away” or “will get better with time” or “maybe it’s just growing pains.” It is, in fact, none of those things. It’s not growing pains, or getting better with time or something that will go away – and it will grow into a full-fledged problem unless you take the time to think about it and fix it.

Those little pre-problems? Those will become problems, and you’ll save yourself a lot of heartache and stress if you take some time out and just fix them when they are small and fixable, instead of waiting until they are out of control. 

Sometimes it IS the Person

You know how people like to say it isn’t you, it’s me? Well, sometimes it is YOU – and not the you that is reading this. Aside from happy moments and moments of great upheaval, oftentimes we get asked to come in when things are not so great with one particular individual. It’s usually someone who is high performing and just doesn’t know how to human. It’s often very stressful because the person is “great at sales” or “really nice” or something equally as frustrating when they are also awful to everyone around them. Sometimes, it’s not fixable – you can’t get someone to change unless they want to change. And if they don’t want to change? You’re wasting time and money.

These are only a few things I’ve learned about company culture over the last eight years – I thankfully can’t imagine what I’m going to learn for the next eight!


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