HR Roundtable: How HR Can Encourage Encouragement

We decided to start the HR Roundtable (of Cincinnati) off in 2017 on a positive note. The topic was “Encouragement At Work” and we were going to explore how to make this more of the norm versus an exception. Since we skipped meeting in January, people were eager to reconvene and get into the topic. To get them started the small groups discussed the following questions:

  1. What is the tone of communication at work?
  2. Why do we struggle in encouraging others?
  3. How can we get better at encouragement?

We had a very full house and the groups jumped right into the questions. It was almost impossible to bring them back in, but when they came back, they gave some really solid answers.

1. What is the tone of communication at work?

  • We tend to be negative more often than positive — It’s true. Organizations tend to focus on what is “wrong” so that it can be fixed. With that perspective as a basis for the majority of efforts, the communication tends to follow. This may not mean that communication is derogatory, but the tone is more on getting things done versus developing relationships.
  • Territorial thinking — People run in packs within companies. Departments stay with departments. Employees communicate more often with people who work at the level of their role instead of communicating up and down the chain. There is nothing wrong with these facets of organizational communication; it’s just the reality in most workplaces. The challenge is when people only communicate within their territory. It limits overall communication.
  • Herd mentality — Companies strive for conformity. They are more comfortable when people stay within the norms of who they are. If a person strays outside of the herd, they are not treated well. This is a real challenge that needs to be addressed and not ignored.
  • The myth of control — Managers and leaders often feel that the way to get people to perform is to control how they are treated and the work they’re allowed to conduct. This has never worked, but companies allow this behavior none the less. It’s something that would truly improve company cultures if they eliminated this practice.
  • Passive/aggressive — Since people avoid confrontation and conflict at almost all costs, this type of communication is sure to appear. We fear what will happen if people are intentional and direct even though that is what most employees want – at all levels and roles.
  • Show up and get things done — This isn’t really a method of communication. It’s more of an unspoken expectation. Our systems within companies are based on being visible and cranking out results. Being productive is needed in our work, but the assumption that when people are visible, they are working, is an assumption at times.

2. Why do we struggle in encouraging others?

  • It’s societal habit — We feel that when people are positive with each other, or encouraging, then there’s some ulterior motive. It typically isn’t the case, but we have more apprehension when people say nice things. That is a difficult state to exist, but it is something to recognize and acknowledge.
  • We’re afraid of reciprocation — Again, challenging to think that this is an obstacle. However, when someone is encouraging, we aren’t always sure if we’re supposed to reciprocate. It isn’t something that has to occur, but reciprocation can actually become more natural the more encouragement is genuinely practiced.
  • We don’t know the motivation of others — This shouldn’t be a stumbling block, but people are inherently selfish. We tend to think of ourselves first. So, when others encourage us, our first filter is one of questioning why it’s occurring. We’d do better to be more open when we encounter encouragement and accept it as it’s given. That alone would change this facet in how we interact with each other.
  • The corporate culture — Every corporate culture is different. There are those that are open and seek feedback as part of how work is done, and others that tend to exist separately. Leadership of an organization sets the tone when it comes to encouragement. If they are encouragers themselves, then you’ll see positive communication happen more often.

3. How can we get better at encouragement?

  • HR needs to take the lead – on purpose — People are the business of HR. It shouldn’t even have to be stated, but we often put other things ahead of people. That needs to stop. When we make this the key aspect of our job, then our focus on work changes as well. People need to be the filter for all HR efforts.
  • Believe in folks first instead of making them “earn” it — If you see the best in others and encourage them when they accomplish things, tell them. Don’t wait until some formal time for reviews and reports. Catch them doing great things and encourage them. It’s proven that when you encourage folks instead of pointing out what’s not being done, they will do more to continue to be recognized.
  • Infect your senior management — This sounds odd, but it’s a fun thing to do. One of the biggest opportunities HR has is to make senior management succeed. Since encouragement doesn’t come naturally, they probably need to be trained themselves. The goal is to make them infectious so they become the strongest encouragers in the company. If that happens, watch how your culture grows and thrives!!
  • Be authentic and intentional and allow others to be as well — This is essential because encouragement can’t be forced. People long for HR to be genuine and authentic. They also want people to be intentional and make sure to spend time with them. Relationship establishment is something that HR needs to adopt, own and build over time. It will differentiate your culture over time.

It was great to start the year on a positive note and it was very encouraging to see such a large crowd. People were geeked when they went back out to their workplaces which is always great to see.

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Steve Browne, SHRM-SCP, is the Executive Director of Human Resources for LaRosa's, Inc., a regional pizzeria restaurant chain in the Greater Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio area with 16 locations and over 1,200 team members. Steve has been an HR professional for more than 30 years in the manufacturing, consumer products, and professional services industries. He facilitates a monthly HR Roundtable in Cincinnati and runs an Internet message board for HR pros that reaches 7,800 plus people weekly. Steve joined the SHRM Board of Directors in January 2016. You can contact him at sbrowne@larosas.com, or on Twitter (@sbrownehr). You can also read more on his personal blog, Everyday People.

 

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