Those who are heard get wings: the importance of listening sessions

In an age of fast-paced communication and high workloads, sincerely listening to employees is often a challenge for organisations. This can lead to stress, demotivation and the loss of valuable resources. Fortunately, listening sessions offer a powerful solution to bridge this communication gap and create an environment where employees feel heard and valued. Because those who are heard get wings.

Stressor: lack of feedback

A recent survey by Page Personnel reveals that, contrary to expectations, lack of recognition appears to be the biggest workplace stressor, followed by the amount of work. A striking finding is that over half of workers consider leaving their jobs because of stress, of which 20% actually do so. For job seekers, lack of feedback proves to be a source of stress in particular, even more so than being rejected.

Listening is not rocket science

These findings highlight the importance of a supportive and communicative work environment. Many employers focus primarily on attracting new talent, but at Square Circle, we believe that actively working to retain and engage employees is equally important. Listening sessions are an effective way to understand what is going on and address the lack of recognition.

Listening sessions: more engagement

Listening sessions are confidential one-to-one conversations and/or group discussions with several employees holding different positions. They allow you to go deeper into hot topics, discover drivers and throw up initial solutions. This leads to higher awareness among management, HR and executives on the one hand, and more commitment among staff on the other. A win-win!

Strategic communication

By organising listening sessions, you will gain crucial strategic insights about communication as an organisation: “Do we know what is going on among people? What are we doing to engage our employees? Have we adequately prepared the messaging before we roll out the communication? Are the executives ready to communicate the message?” However, it is not easy to answer these questions when you are in the middle of it. That is why at Square Circle we offer practical and strategic support, while maintaining a helicopter view.

Experiences with listening sessions

We have been conducting listening sessions for several clients for more than 15 years, each from a different angle. For instance, following a survey on resistance to strategic change, or following a more in-depth employee survey from which some important points of interest emerged.

A common response from participants is “The focus is so much on the business that there is little time for a good conversation. This listening session is a very good initiative”. Listening sessions are indeed an important first step in creating an open and confidential environment where employees can have their voices heard and have an impact on organisational culture.

If your organisation is aware that there may be blind spots in the workplace and doesn’t really know how to discover them and what to do next, contact us. We are ready to help you communicate better and empower your employees to grow.

Case Unigro: how to communicate a restructuring to all stakeholders

Due to economic circumstance and strategic motives, the Belgian e-commerce firm Unigro had to cease its activities. CEO Yves Moens faced the challenging responsibility of informing stakeholders and employees about the reorganisation. For support in their crisis communication, they got in touch with Square Circle.

 

Why did Unigro decide to contact Square Circle?

“For various reasons, Unigro had to stop its activities, which resulted in a collective dismissal of all our employees”, says Yves Moens. “In the first phase, we had to communicate this to our works council, our employees, and all our other stakeholders: customers, labour administration, partners, suppliers, and the media. Considering our inexperience with this type of communication, its delicate nature and the importance of timing, we decided to contact an outside expert.”

How Square Circle offered crisis communication support

Roadmap

Crisis communication is about conveying a narrative, tailored to the concerns and needs of its target group. That is why Square Circle first organised a workshop to map out stakeholders, decide what to communicate to each, what channels would be used and who would be responsible for the communication.

Crisis communication

Next, we further developed the narrative so it could be presented to the Works council in Belgium. Once approved by the group management and labour lawyer, we started creating the necessary communication artefacts, information tools and documents the management team could use to anticipate questions from stakeholders.

“It was incredibly important to involve the local management team in the process”, says Katrien Decroos, crisis communication expert at Square Circle, “If they understand the narrative, they can pass it on more easily to employees and onboard others. That would inspire trust. And trust was needed, as employees would have to continue work at Unigro months after the layoff announcement.”

Media training

Once Unigro’s story was clearly defined, Square Circle provided the management team with media training, showing them how to adjust their message to stakeholders and communication channels, and coaching on how to manage the employees on a day-to-day basis in uncertain times. Finally, on the day of the announcement, Katrien Decroos was present at Unigro’s headquarters to receive and address the press. “We were grateful to have a partner in our building who could accommodate the press, guide them and answer their questions”, says Yves Moens. “That was very favourable to our company’s image.”

Did Unigro consider the communication to be successful?

“We were very pleased with the final result”, remarks Yves Moens. “Our message was nicely tailored to each stakeholder and, thanks to a highly detailed roadmap, everything was planned out down to the minute at the announcement. Also, with Square Circle’s guidance, we were able to retain our employees’ trust through effective communication and uphold the long-standing reputation of Otto Group, our parent company.”

Would Unigro recommend the partnership with Square Circle?

“Absolutely”, says Yves Moens. “Their approach was very pragmatic and we loved that. They had tools and templates at their disposal which they could customise to our project and company. It offered a foothold for this difficult process. Add to that their flexibility and responsiveness, their readiness to answer any immediate questions we had. That is very valuable during a communication crisis where timing is everything. Without Square Circle, we would not have been able to communicate so accurately and professionally.”

What advice would Unigo give other companies undergoing a restructuring process?

“Make sure you are well prepared”, suggests Yves Moens. “That means surrounding yourself with the right partners to determine a communication strategy and roadmap, so you can convey the layoff announcement adequately to the stakeholders involved. Of course, this kind of preparation takes time. In many cases, headquarters wants communication to follow quickly, but you can only communicate this delicate message once. Luckily, the Otto Group gave us enough time to prepare. So, don’t rush it. A nuanced message takes time to compose.”

Do you need support with crisis communication? Square Circle has more then 20 years expertise in preparing, developing and implementing crisis communication strategy for restructurings, reorganisations and closures.  Square Circle trains spokespersons in handling the media and onboard internal communicators in communication in uncertain times. Get in touch with us for more information.

What’s the secret behind company values that work?

How would you describe the personality of your business in just a few words? And how would your colleagues describe it? A company with an identity connects your employees and aligns them with  your overall mission and vision. Square Circle provides you with interesting insights to help define and implement your values.

Involve your team in the process

Values should be worn like a suit, not kept in a suitcase that you only open when you need it. You embrace values because they are personally meaningful and because they add something to the way you work as a team. They need to be shared by everyone in your company to be effective. That is why values cannot be determined top-down and employees should be involved in creating values that work.

Create clear and limited values

Values shape your company culture, how employees behave, how strategies are decided, and how successes are celebrated. Values should be lived by your employees and expressed in their day-to-day interactions. For this reason, it is important that your values clearly express what is expected of your employees. Do not hesitate to fundamentally review your values, and involve your employees in the process, in order to (re)formulate them and clarify these expectations. You will see how energising this is!

Limit the amount of your values to three or four. A higher number will be hard to translate into specific behaviour, increasing the chances that your employees won’t live by them. Do you have five or more values? Review them critically, perhaps you are overestimating the capabilities of your team.

Set an example and promote the right behaviour

Values should be promoted top down, by talking about them regularly at team meetings. By using them as a compass in evaluating employee behaviour. By emphasising proper behaviour as well as speaking up to those who don’t put your values into practice.

Management plays a key role in implementing a company’s values. As a leader, you must think about them daily and talk about them regularly. If values are upheld, employees are more motivated, more involved and more connected with management, benefitting, in turn, your customers, partners and stakeholders.

Need support in reviewing or defining your company values? Square Circle helps employees reflect on values through interactive workshops. Working bottom-up, we help define values and their corresponding behaviours, always taking care that they are equally supported by upper management. Together, we can come to clear agreements. Curious to know more? Get in touch.

How do you define your company’s mission and vision and why should you?

In a world teeming with ideas and aspirations, the bedrock of any successful venture lies in a clear purpose, encapsulated in the trinity of vision, mission, and values. But what makes a strong vision and mission, and how do you define them? Square Circle offers strategic advice to help you get started on your winning strategy.

Leave ‘missions’ to the military and James Bond

A word of advice: replace the term ‘mission’ with ‘core purpose’. Ask your receptionist what her job’s core purpose is and she’ll be able to answer it. Inquire about her mission and she’ll most likely stare at you in bewilderment. The same holds for your employees. A core purpose gives meaning to their work. It is the reason why your activity was created and your organisation exists. Without roots, we don’t know where we’ve come from and even less, where we can go.

A core purpose does not have to be unique. Feeding people is the core purpose of many food companies. Yours can be to feed people healthily and sustainably. What makes you unique, however, is how you translate this core purpose into a powerful vision: what kind of company do you want to become? Without a core purpose, there can be no vision.

Don’t know where to start? Square Circle helps your company self-reflect and define its core purpose through interactive workshops. Together, we’ll come to the roots of your company, helping you understand where you come from and how you can grow. Curious to know more? Get in touch.

Prepare for the future with a strong vision

A strong vision can transform a boring strategy into a scoring strategy. It describes how your company responds to technical, technological or societal evolutions – think of challenges such as climate change or the rise of AI – and what opportunities they offer your company.

Identify pillars

The first step is to determine the pillars of your vision: what areas determine the evolution of your activities? For a building company, this might be developments in civil engineering, the ability to build more complex structures or to ensure safety.

Define goals

Next, strong and ambitious goals need to be defined for each of the pillars, the kind that gives you goosebumps, that excites and motivates you. These goals can be both qualitative and quantitative. To give you an example, the following is a goal formulated by an American manufacturer of concrete:

“In 10 years, we will be producing engineering and civil engineering structures that will be 2 times more resistant, 2 times more durable and half as expensive – both in terms of construction and maintenance – than those of today. We will also build them twice as fast.”

Rely on your team

Pillars can be defined by your management. For specific goals, we recommend drawing upon the knowledge and creativity of your team. Divide your employees into small working groups and have them discuss and analyse these pillars and define goals for a period of 3 years, 10 years, or more depending on your type of market. You’d be surprised what they can come up with.

Developing a vision is fascinating work. It forces you to imagine your company in the future, to respond to ongoing developments in the world and to come up with bold ideas. However, there’s one key ingredient missing to implement your vision: your corporate values.

Need support defining your goals? Square Circle helps you harness the creativity of your team. We facilitate workshops where your employees can freely share and discuss ideas to define powerful and ambitious goals for your company. Working closely together, we help you shape a short or long-term vision to guide your employees. Curious to know more? Get in touch.

The secret to a successful and surprising debate

Expanding internal knowledge, showing social commitment or bringing clients together: you know why and what you are organising a debate about. But as a moderator, how do you make sure your debate stands out? How do you approach common discussion topics from a refreshing angle? Helena Schalenbourg, Communications Advisor at Square Circle, offers surprising tips to sharpen your moderation techniques.

BEFORE THE DEBATE

Lay a long foundation for your debate

A moderator’s job starts well before the debate in question. Extensive preparation provides a good basis for a natural conversation.

  • Delve into the topic | Explore the subject matter by conducting online and offline research. In the research phase, take into account the client’s expectations, but also the target group. Do they come into contact with the issue on a regular basis? What does their prior knowledge consist of?
  • Meet the panel beforehand | Ideally, you should take the time to get acquainted with each guest. That way, you become familiar with their expertise, background and point of view on the central issue. Often, at this stage you will also come across intriguing peculiarities in the guest’s vision or personality, which you can exploit during the debate. Be curious and listen with an open mind. A targeted conversation of half an hour per person a few days in advance should be  sufficient.
  • Prepare a range of questions | An interviewer’s worst nightmare? Not being able to think of a powerful follow-up question. Using a wide range of alternating questions, focusing on the essential angles you definitely want to discuss, allows you to always fall back on a good question and maintain the pace of the discussion. Write these down on handy punch cards if necessary, so you have a grip not only figuratively but also literally during the debate.

DURING THE DEBATE

Enable constructive conversations

While the best debates seemingly happen naturally, they are often also the effect of an assertive moderator with guts.

  • Introduce each panellist | Briefly but firmly introduce each speaker to the audience before declaring the debate open. Or better yet, ask them to briefly tell you who they are themselves.
  • Have guts and dive into the churning river | How do you open a debate? An overly detailed description of the central topic is like a churning river and causes a room of experts (if they are indeed experts) to doze off. In that case, dare to make a statement that moves every party. After all, an exciting film often starts with a cliffhanger too.
  • Keep your distance with science | The line between bringing rhythm to the debate through engaging questions and revealing your own point of view is thin. Citing scientific research to introduce a question is an ideal way to grab the attention of the panel and the audience without revealing your personal opinion. Neutrality is key!
  • Break free from the ‘banality’ of every day | Human beings have an intrinsic desire for depth and intellectual exploration. Even a debate on a mundane or technical subject can be enriched by confronting the panellists with statements of established philosophers. You will see, the answer to this kind of question often speaks straight to the listener’s heart.
  • Speak to the imagination | Imagery is refreshing. Feel free to use metaphors in your questioning, e.g. analogies from the animal world. Drawing parallels with the natural world often provides a vivid and accessible way to convey complex concepts.
  • Play devil’s advocate | If a critical question is on the tip of your tongue, don’t hesitate to ask it, but do so in a warm and friendly way. The listener will hold their breath, sitting on the edge of their seat awaiting the answer.
  • Lightheartedness trumps | Even in serious debates, most speakers are only too happy to show their playful side when confronted with lighthearted questions. Breaking seriousness with playfulness adds a human element, enriches the dynamics of the debate and also creates a unique and sometimes even memorable connection between speaker and audience.
  • Guard the balance | Rarely does a debate aim to throw oil on the fire. Give panellists sufficient opportunity to express themselves, show their expertise and come up with convincing arguments.  Do you notice that someone stays in the background? Give them the floor on a subtopic they have an affinity with.
  • Let them shine | Moderating is like conducting a symphony. Your job is to make the panellists score and shine. The panelists’ success is also your triumph.
  • Show your focus | Eye contact and a smile create confidence in conversations with colleagues, friends and family. The same is true in professional situations such as debating. Be alert to your own body language through adequate eye contact with panellists and a conversational smile. They help make the panel feel comfortable.


Bonus tip | Involve the public

A debate is not an academic presentation or a financial report. Dare to take the opportunity to poll the audience. Engage attendees, for example, via a poll they can answer with their smartphones. A live display of the responses on a screen will undoubtedly provide new fodder for further debate.


AT THE END OF THE DEBATE

Conclude in style

A practised moderator devotes at least as much attention to the conclusion as to the build-up of the debate.

  • Take time for a word of thanks| End the debate by explicitly thanking the panellists for their presence and their fascinating views. Then address the audience. After all, the people in the room also chose to make time and attend the debate. A thank you to all involved is a warm gesture with an impact that should not be underestimated.

Do you wish to call on an experienced moderator? Looking for an objective party to build the bridge between panel and audience? Square Circle is happy to take the lead.

Contact Square Circle >>

Dismissal: a slap in the face?

In a recent article in De Standaard, Annick Ruyts, an employee at VRT, expressed dissatisfaction with the way her dismissal unfolded during the latest organizational restructuring. Abrupt and strictly business like, lacking the anticipated humane touch in both communication and farewell gestures.

How would you yourself like to be fired? Have you ever thought about that? How about incorporating this aspect into the hiring process or including it in the employment contract? Is your preference for a brief and stoic exit, or would you appreciate having ample time to bid farewell and express your emotions?

We are not talking about the individual dismissal here which can be experienced as ‘liberating’ if the fit with the company or the job is lacking or if the employee-employer relationship is not working out and it is simply best to part ways. We focus on multiple or collective dismissals where several employees are suddenly asked to leave their organisation for economic reasons.

That is where the words dismissal and redundancy can have real, tangible meaning for those involved. The reactions do not lie. You only have to read the headlines on some restructurings: a “sledgehammer blow”, a “slap in the face”, a true “battlefield” for staff…

But it doesn’t have to be that way!

When dealing with redundancies, you have every interest in handling redundancy interviews professionally and qualitatively, not as an afterthought that your company has to endure.

It not only benefits your company’s reputation. The acclaimed ‘Reputation Institute’ has been scientifically researching elements that influence an organisation’s reputation for more than 20 years. Their conclusion? Emotional attributes or characteristics are more important than rational elements.

A collective expression of dissatisfaction from a hundred individuals recounting their negative dismissal experiences carries significant weight, particularly within the vicinity of their company’s location. The impact may extend beyond local boundaries, evident in the widespread national media coverage surrounding Annick Ruyts’ book Indeed, this holds true even when the experiences are positive. Your company’s social reputation is built not only when hiring employees but also when they leave, if it comes to that.

But your organisation’s internal reputation counts too. How do you get your people engaged again if the human experience surrounding the round of dismissals among colleagues is downright negative? How do you retain the good elements who will be the first to leave the ship if they experience certain human values being compromised?

The ideal dismissal does not exist.  As a golden rule, we advise you to view dismissal interviews not only as a conversation to end a relationship (the solution for the company) but also as a moment that should enable the employee to start something new later (the solution for the employee). Planting seeds that can germinate later.

Even if you think it is far too early to talk about the future at that point, you can still suggest avenues that can help the employee work on his or her own future again, step by step, in the coming weeks. For example, by dwelling on the practical help that an outplacement counselling service or an employment unit can offer.

There are also three ‘dimensions’ that can help you along the way to succeed in your strategic exercise: SPACE, TIME and CLARITY.

Giving SPACE to vent, to listen, to understand.

The impact of a collective dismissal frequently lands on unyielding ground. Employees often feel ‘caught out’. Self-esteem and confidence in the organisation are affected. Frustration, anger, emotionality are often vented at home. Also, with colleagues. It is to the credit of managers if they give employees space to express their feelings. With respect for everyone. In a ‘safe’ environment.

Provide TIME to go through the ‘grieving process’ in its entirety.

The concept of time is subjective in this context. Certain individuals immediately dive into their next endeavors upon resigning, wasting no time between the announcement and their actual departure. Others need time, sometimes a lot of time. Talking, venting helps with this. But at each person’s pace. A manager knows his people. It is his/her job to do so. Don’t leave that to HR alone.

CLARITY is a steady rock.

When all assurances dissipate, our brains often start ‘freewheeling’, no longer listening, no longer wanting to understand. Make sure you have scripts for all managers who will soon have to hold dismissal interviews, in collaboration with HR.

A script explains how best to approach the conversation, what to do in case of emotion, anger, brutal reactions. What to give in writing, in it included the ‘seeds’ that might germinate later.