"Actions speak louder than words.” Whoever was the adage-maker on that one sure had it right! It’s an expression that invariably comes up when labor and management leaders discuss how they should go about articulating their commitment to working together. The phrase garners knowing nods, agreement all around, “Well of course that’s true” type statements.
And yet, when it comes to practicing that preaching, we often stutter. We fall prey to the “Well, I’ve told them,” trap, which means we think we’ve communicated a message because we uttered or wrote it. Our words found voice, or print, so we can check the box, and hurry off to our next pressing matter. But let’s hold it right there. Where’s the action in that? Where’s the modeling the collaborative behavior we’re espousing? Where’s the feedback gathering to assure the message was heard, or read, or understood?
Here are some simple ways one pair of “joint” leaders is cracking the code on the challenge of effectively communicating through actions. Tom Brantley, president of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists union, and Teri Bristol, the FAA’s Vice President of Technical Operations, have been working alongside their management and labor leadership teams to cultivate a culture of collaboration.
- They meet bi-monthly as a Joint Leadership Team in a city with an FAA facility and they do something that initially stunned the work force: they go into the workplace together to meet with and listen to employees! What began as a simple gesture to model collaboration rather than just talk about it, has now evolved into a standing practice that includes All Hands meetings, with an informal question and answer session. Afterward, when the JLT debriefs the workplace visit, they talk about what they heard and how they can work together to address systemic issues, which often results in pulling together people closest to the issue to help resolve it. The JLT has learned the art of listening, and they use this practice to identify trends and issues of concern to their employees.
- The leadership team also recognizes there is power in words, so they considered how they could harness that in a collaborative fashion. A “joint” union/management newsletter provides background on the collaborative process and seeks to keep employees informed about the JLT’s work. But what speaks perhaps loudest of all are the two logos, one for the PASS union and one for the FAA, that share the masthead, signaling that while they may be distinctly different organizations, on this content, in this format, they agree.
- Recently the JLT convened a meeting with its district managers and union reps, and to assure the session met the need of those mid-level leaders, they put together a planning committee made up of.., guess who? A group representative of those who would be attending. And then, the JLT worked diligently to incorporate their feedback in the meeting design, including a Listening Panel as one of the core activities during the session. Absent was the typical panel discussion with leaders droning on about their beliefs and points of view. Instead, participants engaged in a robust round-robin session in which the JLT members cycled through small groups of mid-level leaders, asking about a specific topic, including the open-ended, “What’s on your mind?” Several imposed constraints helped the JLT stay in listening mode: “No problem solving. No explaining. Clarifying questions only.” After-session evaluations indicated the mid-level leaders really felt heard, and the JLT members were honored by the unbridled feedback they received directly from those they lead. The input from the listening panel became the basis for much of the JLT’s strategic plan for the following year.
Each of these examples is about a way of communicating; they are the direct result of a leadership team giving deliberate thought to how they could use actions to underscore their commitment to collaboration, and to model the type of leadership behaviors they are working to instill in the work force.
The truth about the trite expression? Actions DO speak louder than words, if only we can be quiet long enough to figure out how.
We’d love to hear from you. When have actions spoken louder to you than words ever could?
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