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The Story Behind Semco’s Parla Che Te Fa Bene Moments

Organizational climate, much like environmental climate, often gets relegated to the background of everything that happens around us. But, both have the capacity to build up into something that can no longer be ignored. Fortunately, there are ways to measure, predict and prepare for whatever they bring - be it be, tropical storms or employee dissatisfaction.

The climate in an organization feeds off the various things that affect the motivation of employees to do their jobs. There’s plenty of research that shows that employee engagement tends to be greater in companies where the leadership fosters autonomy, trust and transparency.

But it’s not a simple undertaking to gauge the climate in a company: It’s a massive exercise that requires a sound knowledge of work environments, survey methodologies, statistical evaluation and human psychology. And the process doesn’t stop at sending out climate evaluation surveys or the diagnosis of underlying issues. The management, as well as the employees, need to join forces and think of actionable ideas that can help resolve the underlying issues.

How Semco Bridged Its Communication Gaps

For instance, in 2009, when Semco conducted it’s yearly climate evaluation survey, it was found that although people felt the office was an open environment, where they could share their opinions, not everybody was actually doing so.

The survey results revealed that just about 60 percent of the respondents said they expressed their real opinions at work and the management felt concerned about it. About 40 percent of the employees weren’t being transparent about their thoughts even if they technically knew they could be transparent at Semco. The management took note of the inherent contradiction and wanted to immediately address it.

Once they revealed the complete survey results in the general meeting, this issue was flagged for further discussion. They came up with a couple of ideas to improve the number of people who were actually expressing themselves without holding back. Firstly, they decided to organize training workshops to improve people’s communication and feedback skills.

Parla Che Te Fa Bene

The aim was to show people how they could express themselves in more open and transparent ways. Employees were also shown why it was important to give constant and open feedback and were shown how they could take more initiative to communicate better. The purpose of the workshops was to offer people the relevant tools required to start giving open and transparent feedback.

To complement the improvements brought about by the workshops, the management also actively reinforced the practice of speaking up during meetings. They named it parla che te fa bene, which is an Italian expression that meant, “Take the opportunity to speak up”. (The expression is quite popular in Brazil, thanks to certain soap operas.)

The idea was to encourage people to speak up in any kind of situation. All leaders and managers reinforced the practice at meetings by asking people to share, telling them that there is no right or wrong opinion and reassuring everyone that there won’t be any judgement. At every meeting the manager(s) would officially block some time for this practice. They would say, “Guys, now it’s time for parla che te fa bene. So, let’s hear all your thoughts!”

In essence, a lot of effort was put into creating a safe space for people to speak up and the mixed approach of active training and reinforcement proved quite effective. Although it was a challenge to encourage people to speak up, the number of people doing so went up to 80 percent over the next few years.

Don’t Just Band-Aid Issues. Resolve Them.

It’s crucial that company managements understand that no amount of strategic planning can make up for the holes in performance caused by a bad organizational climate. And that it’s no longer viable to ignore the link between employee engagement and company success. It may be true that large corporations have the economic strength and market inertia to ride them through some amount of employee disengagement, but it’s not sustainable on the long run.

Only when the people who are affected by various issues are given the space, resources and safety to debate upon what needs to be done can they come up with tangible solutions. Assuming the conventional top-down approach will only serve to band-aid the issues instead of permanently resolving them.

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