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How to create a healthy communication climate

Whether we feel happy and valued at work, is strongly related to three simple questions:

  1. Do I experience openness and trust in interactions with co-workers, supervisors and top management?
  2. Do I have a say in decisions in which I feel I have a stake?
  3. Can I count on the support of my co-workers and team-lead when I need it?

Our collective feelings about these questions amount to what is known as an organization’s communication climate. It is strongly related to two characteristics of many successful organizations: a high level of engagement and a culture of collaboration. In this blog post I explore what we can do to foster a healthy communication climate.


The quality of relationships

Communication climate is a standard for the quality of the relationships we have at work. Communication climate can be measured at the level of the whole organization or parts of it, such as a geographical location, a department or a team.

  1. Trust: Do co-workers trust each other, their supervisors and top management? Do employees feel free to speak-up without fear for their position or reputation?
  2. Openness: Do employees feel that management and supervisors communicate openly and transparently or is top-down messaging mainly a good news-show?
  3. Voice: Do employees feel their opinions are valued and that they have a say in decisions? Do they feel they can speak up about their concerns and suggestions?
  4. Supportiveness: Do employees feel supported and taken seriously by their co-workers and supervisors?

A healthy communication climate creates the conditions for effective communication, which is the life-blood of every organization. It promotes self-confidence, engagement and collaboration. Employees will be more susceptible to messages from management and co-workers. Investments in HR and communication will thus yield a higher return. A healthy communication climate contributes to the effectiveness, vitality and resilience of an organization. This makes a healthy climate an indispensable factor in improving the performance of the organization as a whole.

Investing in a healthy communication climate may also be one of the most efficient ways to make an organization more effective as it does not require large investments at all.

So how can you best tackle communication climate? As the term already indicates communication climate is a long-term outcome and it often requires some kind of culture change. Here are some starting points:

  1. Make sure there is a logical fit between the desired communication climate and vision, mission and strategy.
  2. Secure unconditional and unequivocal support from the top (in larger organizations including senior management) for the objective and the approach and make this support visible and tangible.
  3. Devise a fully integrated change and communication approach, based on close cooperation between management, HR and communication.
  4. Create unavoidable exposure, the desired communication culture needs to be seen and felt everywhere in the organization.
  5. Walk-the-talk: credibility and consistency are essential; there should be no light between corporate messaging through internal media and what supervisors say and do.
  6. Align systems and processes such as recruitment, assessment and rewards with the desired communication climate. Identify and reward exemplary behavior.
  7. Maintain zero tolerance for behavior which undermines the credibility of the desired changes, also at the team-level.
  8. Go slow to go fast: be prepared that involving employees in decision making takes more time and creates expectations. The organization needs to learn how to play that game. Moreover, this ‘lost’ time is ​​often more than compensated in the implementation phase because of higher levels of employee involvement.
  9. Communicate openly and transparently: inform not only the good news but also setbacks; avoid euphemistic, disguising frames to give a positive spin to unwelcome news.
  10. Involve employees in the design of the desired communication climate and the way it is brought to life. Take objections and problems that employees bring up seriously.
  11. Don’t give up.

Finally, credibility and consistency are essential. Fostering a healthy climate requires unconditional commitment from top management and is ideally cast in stone in the organization’s mission and vision statements and obviously reflected in its practices. Systems and processes such as recruitment, recognition and rewards need to be aligned with the desired culture.

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