"Ritual is necessary for us to know anything."
- Ken Kesey
The ability to engage in rituals, or create rituals when there are none, is probably one of the most least understood aspects of organisational life and organisational success. Yet it is the thoughtful application of rituals that gives us an unconditional starting point from which to:
The examples below demonstrate the ways in which rituals can be used to contribute to sustainable business relationships and positively impact the way we do our work.
Rituals in On Boarding
Make the important organisational rituals explicit. Normally, we stumble our way through guessing what the accepted rituals may be until we think we have it, or someone is kind enough to steer us in the right direction. From an on boarding perspective, review your processes to see whether you allow for organisational rituals to be easily understood. After all, when we are new to an organisation it is the observing and practice of rituals unique to our new organisation that helps us fit in.
Rituals and Leadership
In leadership, the role of rituals in building employee engagement and healthy relationships can never be underestimated. When getting to know your people, it is often advised to get some one on one time. The one on one meeting process is a good way to start a relationship. Keeping them going, and creating a ritualistic experience is absolutely vital to maintaining individual relationships. In a week things can get hectic and you may not always be available; but if your people know that come rain, hail or shine they have their weekly one on one with you, then you are in a good place. Even little things such as the morning coffee is a ritual that allows for simple connection. Acknowledge that those moments of ritual become cornerstone moments in your leadership relationship. Even in regular small doses, they signal your availability, and allow your team to experience you as a person, and not just their leader.
Rituals and the Expatriate
For the expatriate who is seeking to fit into their adopted country, the role of rituals becomes even more important. By seeking to understand the cultural rituals, the expatriate is able to pick up valuable cues that will aid their assimilation. For example, an American working in France may think that taking lunch with their colleagues isn’t such a big deal, and opt to take lunch at their desk instead. By doing this, they are missing out on an important ritual, one that is sacred for many Latin based cultures. That is; lunch is a social engagement and a means for connecting with colleagues – mostly without discussing work. Then there is the other ritual that follows lunch – taking coffee together. This is where work is discussed, but often with colleagues from other parts of the office. This ritual allows for connection, gossip and sharing of what is ‘really’ happening in the company. Beyond these examples; at the most basic level, the act of seeking to understand and participate in local rituals is a valuable and simple way for the expatriate to build connections quickly. It demonstrates an open-mindedness and a deep level of respect, and in most cases, escalates the assimilation of the expatriate into the new team.
Rituals and Team Building
The best teams often have a number of rituals that they don’t even realise. They are the moments that act like glue and bind the team together. I once led a team that was considered by onlookers as high performing, often punching above their weight, and above all – tight. We were often operating in that place of high trust. When asked about this over the years, my reflections often come back to the fact that we created many ritualistic moments that reflected the heart and soul of rituals – acknowledgment and recognition. We took the time when I joined the team to create many moments of connection that became rituals. Some of them already existed; others we built on. As a team we often took coffee together, and regular morning teas or lunches taken together, celebrated birthdays and other special events in the lives of the team members. Underpinning this were our non-negotiable rituals of one on one meetings and weekly team meetings. Built into our one on ones and team meetings was a sub-ritual of allowing for more personal exchanges and sharing before moving onto business. Individually they may not seem like significant events. Collectively these rituals became a larger element, representative of what it meant to be a member of (and 'belong' to) our team.
Rituals and Mergers & Acquisitions
Another place for the effective integration of rituals is in the M&A process. The ability for the acquiring company to establish rapport quickly with the target company is vital for a harmonious transition; and it is here that rituals can speed up the process of connection and integration. Seeking to understand the existing organisational rituals will provide significant insight as to the culture of the acquired company. The M&A may look great on paper, but if the way cultural rituals are enacted in each company are poles apart then you have something to think about. Remember that rituals are behavioural and driven by a deeper level of collective attitude and values that aren’t so easy to shift. This is more easily seen in cross-cultural M&A’s where the differences are often quite noticeable. In domestic situations it is looking at the subtleties. Does anyone get allocated the best car parks? Do people start early and finish late? Who gets involved early in projects – finance or R&D? Often, factors such as this may be unspoken, but deeply ingrained rituals that give you insight to the differences that may need to be dealt with in the transition period.
The final word
That the creative use of rituals can open the door for such a level of connection shouldn’t be surprising; as a human race we have been engaging in rituals for a long time to help distinguish one group from another and create an unspoken language that helps to define who we are and who we accept. When we engage in rituals different to our own, or what we are used to, it isn’t about compromising our values or ways of doing things. We are however signaling that we are interested in the person or group sitting opposite us. We are acknowledging who they are, what they bring to the relationship, and that we want them to participate in the relationship. At all levels of an organisation, this is beating heart of employee engagement, and business to business success. So why not use it as a thoughtful lever for greater success?
In this blog I explore key ideas for maintaining customer loyalty and protecting your brand in tough economic times, from an employee engagement and trust perspective.
Tough times call for tough measures. In a recession or economic downturn government and businesses are continually looking for ways to strengthen customer confidence. While ever customers are confident that there is light at the end of the tunnel, or merely have confidence in government and business that they can get through the tough times, there is an economy with a pulse. It may be faint, but there is a pulse.
Typical business measures implemented to bolster customer confidence revolve around cost and waste minimisation. Stripping away the fat that was put on during the good years is a common and smart first step. Most measures that are implemented are geared around cost, for example, streamlining, or optimizing process and laying off employees.
What is often forgotten is that customer confidence is not only the result of cost management. Customer confidence is also the result of what they observe and how they “feel” when they interact with your business. This means that despite the circumstances, employee engagement and confidence needs to be at an all time high. This is because your employees have the power to exponentially increase the effectiveness, and perception, of cost management strategies by the way they engage with the customer and talk to their friends and families about the business.
Employees are smart. They know when things are going well and when things are not so good. So when an organisation is having to make tough, cost related decisions, but keeping this information to the senior inner circle of managers, it's also a given that the employee group by this time suspects something is wrong. But they don't know what; and at the same time no one is telling them anything. So what's the natural thing to do? Speculate. Pretty soon gossip and rumour overcome facts and employee confidence in management and the company starts to diminish. This is a major problem for a three reasons.
Firstly, one of the major contributors to employee engagement is having an enjoyable and stimulating place to work. When paranoia sets in, this negatively impacts on this factor.
Secondly, most businesses today talk about integrity and open communication as being integral to their business. It says so on the policies that sit on the foyer walls and hallways of your offices. When the facts, as much as they can be shared without compromising core organizational strategy, are not communicated in a timely manner the perception is that the workforce is not trusted to be adult enough to deal with the real situation. The result is that employees experience varying degrees of condescension and cynicism instead of integrity and communication.
Thirdly, all the cost cutting and cost optimization measures in the world don't mean anything if you don't have customers being confident in your brand. In tough times repeat business is often the injection that keeps the business pulse ticking along given that customers loyalty can take a hit due to their own need to cut costs and shop around as well. In times of recession loyalty can often be a victim, not that it needs to be. Customer confidence is inspired equally by a good product and human contact; the behaviours that the customer facing employees provide. Simply put; if employees are disenchanted experience tells us that service levels will take a hit.
So how do you avoid this situation that so many companies experience? Companies that weather economic storms are those brave enough to combine trust and communication with their cost management strategies. There will be information that is too sensitive to share, so what is communicated at each level of the business may vary slightly. Going on the front foot and communicating the real situation to all employees from the outset can minimise paranoia and avoid going down the path of employee disenchantment.
There is no doubt that some employees will be upset or angry at the news. You will also have pockets of paranoia and cynicism. However this is outweighed by the fact that the organisation trusted their people enough to be open and honest. The benefits of communicating the 'what's', 'why's' and 'how's' of a situation can have some important benefits, in particular, brand protection, employee and customer confidence.
Brand protection comes about when your remaining employees, and the ones that are made redundant, continue to talk highly of the company. They can do this because they understand 'why' the company took its course action. They may not like it, but they understand. This is even more important within organisations that are laying off staff even though they are still very profitable. This is probably one of the single most misunderstood issues that companies fail to explain.
Communication breeds confidence. When employees know what is happening to their business, and why, they feel involved. They offer ideas as to how things can be done better because they know management will listen. Additionally, when those remaining have to do more with less they know why. It doesn't make the job easier, but it helps provide a healthier mindset with which to do the job. Interestingly, it also helps the employees, especially those dealing with customers, have empathy with what their customers may be going through which is a vital strength during any economic period.
When the brand is being protected, and employees are confident in what is happening and why, it is easier to inspire customer confidence - naturally. It doesn't remove the fact that it is a difficult period, however it can ease the way somewhat for all involved.
For some organisations implementing these ideas are 'tough measures' in and of themselves because it's not something that comes naturally. However of all the 'tough measures' being implemented it's one of the easiest and most effective and can only have positive outcomes in both the short and long terms. In short...your cost optimisation strategy needs to be equally matched by a strong, and genuine, communication strategy.