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Talk the Talk

by on December 27, 2015

The fifth post in this series will focus on using conversation with your staff. I review the book “Talk, Inc.: How Trusted Leaders Use Conversation to Power Their Organizations” by Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind.

“Distance is a disease that cripples true conversation.” The first sentence of the book. Whoa. I agree, and I feel the pains of working in a twelve-location system. It is hard to have a true conversation without intimacy. Leaders must share thoughts about strategy and operations, while also giving away intimate pieces of their own history. This is not easy! This takes practice, but it truly sets the stage for the rest of the working relationship. The value of listening to someone in a face-to-face interaction is incredible. As I read this book, I adjusted our probation guidelines – we should be rating managers on their ability to listen. Listen. We tend to focus on formal modes of conversation to push information to employees—if you do that, they start to fill in the gaps themselves; they start to create scenarios that probably never happened. This is why we must be diligent to create an open forum to converse with each other. But how?

Treat employees with respect by setting up an Internal Customer Service structure. Use a work ticket system to show that their requests are just as important as external customer requests. This is two-way communication.

Use your library intranet wisely. Post about staff success, community engagement, and clear up policies when necessary.

When a new idea is presented, sit back and listen. If I give my opinion, it may influence others. So, I try to listen before giving immediate feedback. This allows me to hear the full idea, and others to form an opinion without my influence.

Getting close to employees can’t happen without interactivity. Pushing info at them is one thing, but providing a place where they can interact is another. Social media’s success relies on back-and-forth conversation, and it can be mimicked in the workplace. How do you create opportunities for interactivity?

Leaders can blog once a week with a question, a statement, a fun fact, whatever! This allows employees to understand what people in administration are up to, and it provides an opportunity for employees to engage. They can leave comments, talk with each other about it, and even set up a blog themselves.

Online Options
Bank of America created an online water cooler where employees can engage across departments and locations, and according to Groysberg and Slind, it is extremely successful. I find that just asking “What are you reading?” can lead to a lengthy discussion that allows employees to connect with and understand each other.

“An inclusive approach to communication transforms employees from receivers of corporate messaging into messengers in their own right.” Inclusion happens when an organization treats employees as official communicators and asks them to be a part of the conversation AND a creator of the conversation. Obviously, the employee must participate in order for this to be successful. How do you encourage them to participate?

Product Reviewers
Review new materials, databases, resources, etc. and share those reviews internally and externally.

Event Reporters
Report on events ranging from staff meetings to public events.

Ask Questions
Ask staff pointed questions: “How can we reduce costs?” “How can we be better?” “Where do we excel?”

Set up a small grant structure where any employee can write a one-page grant.

Day in the Life
Have one day where all employees take pictures and share on the intranet, celebrate each other!

The basic point of inclusion is to show the employee that they, too, are a customer. They, too, should be happy and they too are a community within themselves. We always want to serve our community, and the employees bring a rich and diverse opportunity to do just that.

Intentionality centers on using conversation as a means to move the organization forward. The authors describe the first three elements as the fuel to energize the company and intentionality as the guide to a certain point. What is your destination? Fuel, and guide the conversation to get there.

It is the leader’s responsibility to guide the organizational conversation to improve its internal and external performance. This means that when you speak with an employee he/she should be able to tell you the mission, strategy, and goals of the library and be able to talk about their role within the organization. Surely you’ve heard the story of the NASA janitor who said his job was to “send people to the moon.” Everyone has a role, and the intentionality of a conversation can lead to real breakthroughs. How can we be intentional in our conversations at work?

Visioning Exercise
Imagine your library is receiving an award: what is it for? Start your conversations by stating goals of the organization, and ask employees for feedback.

Communicate the Why
When writing memos or speaking to staff, start with the What and follow up with the Why. Humans love to know why…even when they don’t agree with you.

Cross Talk
Create opportunities for conversations across departments and branches so that people can understand each other.


Groysberg, Boris and Michael Slind. Talk, Inc.: How Trusted Leaders Use Conversation to Power their Organizations. Harvard Business Review, 2012.

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