In this episode, we continue our journey through each of the Four Engagement Elevators. Today, we’re stepping into elevator number 3: Valued Voice. In this elevator employees trust their coworkers and leaders, participating in open, two-way communication. They allow others to talk as they sincerely listen and, in turn, they share information and concerns.
Helping us explore Valued Voice is the amazing Lori Clark, Director of Local Sales at TEGNA.
Lori has such amazing insights, like:
ENGAGE 2022: The Company Culture Report:
Up Your Culture:
(03:14) Companies with repeatable success have a strong culture
(07:04) When people say, "My door is always open," is it really?
(10:45) When you ask for feedback, always follow up after decisions are made
(12:50) Be as transparent as possible
(15:35) Hire people you trust, and then trust them
(20:44) Leaders need to treat everyone fairly
(23:14) Communicating well across departments is tough
(26:48) Hire good people and make sure they are in the right role
Beth Sunshine: (00:15)
Hello and welcome to Culture Over Coffee, a podcast focused on improving company culture and fostering employee engagement. Every week we chat with experts and thought leaders about the latest information and proven practices you can use to reduce regretable turnover, increase productivity on your team, and retain key customers. So, pour a cup of your favorite brew and join us. I'm your host, Beth Sunshine, SVP at Up Your Culture and the Center for Sales Strategy.
Beth Sunshine: (00:49)
In this episode, we continue our journey through each of the four engagement elevators. Today we're stepping into elevator number three, valued voice In this elevator, employees trust their coworkers and leaders, and they participate in open two-way communication. They also allow others to talk as they sincerely listen, and in turn, share information and concerns back with others. Helping me explore valued voice is the amazing Lori Clark, director of Local Sales at TEGNA. Lori has such great insights on how companies with repeated success almost always have one thing in common, a strong company culture. Why being fully transparent as a leader can make it easier for employees to feel as though their voice is valued, and how providing your employees with the truth will always be better than allowing their minds to fill the vacuum.
Beth Sunshine: (01:43)
So, Lori, thank you so much for joining me today for Culture Over Coffee. This season of our podcast is exploring each of the four engagement elevators that we use to help organizations improve culture, help them elevate engagement, which is where that term engagement elevator came from. Today we're gonna focus on the third engagement elevator, which is valued voice. And you should know that during our planning meeting when we were first discussing this podcast and we were talking about the ideal guests for this episode today, your name came up right away because you have a reputation for building strong teams and establishing really good two-way communication channels where everyone feels heard. So, uh, you are hand selected for this topic. We know it's something you do very naturally, and I'm just really excited that you made time to join us today so we can talk all about this and we can get your perspective on culture and engagement, and very specifically establishing an environment where people feel as though their voices are valued. So thank you for being here. Thank you for having me. I'm excited. I am too. All right. So I wanna start with a very broad question, even though we're gonna get more specific soon. I wanna start very high level and just ask you why do you think it's important that companies focus on company culture or employee engagement? What benefits have you seen either for the company itself or for the employees when this is a focus?
Lori Clark: (03:14)
I, I think the importance is really about, you know, repeated success. Like companies can have success without a strong culture, but the ones that continue to be successful over and over again seem to have a really good, strong culture. And the thing that makes up the culture is honestly, it's about the people and more specifically the leaders. So I think that's why it's super important that you have good people, strong leaders, and then the rest of it kind of follows and falls in place.
Beth Sunshine: (03:48)
That makes sense to me. And I interesting that you would say it's sort of, it's a repeatable process. Uh, if you have a strong culture, you can repeat that success, get it, you know, have it again and again, that that's not something I've, I've always, you know, that people always jump to very insightful.
Lori Clark: (04:05)
Well, and particularly with the last couple years of things being so uncertain and they change, you know, with c o v, with the war, with, you know, supply issues. By having a good culture, you can work through that together as a team, and that's back to where the employee engagement comes in. You can't work through things without everyone being on board with the plan. That's
Beth Sunshine: (04:31)
A great point. Yeah. So many distractions in our lives. So many things tugging at us that if we don't feel engaged at work, if we're not showing up with our sleeves rolled up really ready to go, we're not going to reach our full potential or realize, you know, all of the, the things we we could accomplish. So I, I like that. That's something I'll probably borrow from you in the future, so thank you. All right. So getting more specific from the broad to the more narrow, really specifically the valued voice elevator. Um, you know, the key to establishing, I think, a strong valued voice across an organization is ensuring that there's really good two-way communication, two-way being the key word there. So employees need to feel as though their voices are heard and valued, but at the same time, they also need to feel as though they're getting information that, that they have all of the information and insight they need to do great work.
Beth Sunshine: (05:29)
So I wanna break those two things down a little bit and I'll point to the engaged 2022 report that we recently published. It showed that a surprising number of people, almost one in four, do not feel as though their opinions matter at work. And this actually impacts newer employees even more. I was surprised to see 50% of those employed between one and three years. So not that new one in three years, 50% of them feel as though their opinions do not matter. So I wanna ask you, in your experience, what needs to happen for employees to feel valued and heard? And what are the keys you would recommend to creating that kind of environment?
Lori Clark: (06:13)
Yeah, I was actually surprised by that statistic too. I was like, wow, one in one in four, that's a little bit scary, made me kind of think to myself, okay, so I need to just double back with my team and make sure they're not feeling that way. But I think the way that you it, it's, it's all about it being organic, right? In the everyday, in your everyday conversations, your everyday, um, you know, one-on-ones or client meeting feedback. I mean, I think it is all about not just saying we want your feedback, but in every moment taking that opportunity to get their feedback and then also for you to give your feedback too. Right? And none of us are, you know, an exception to needing feedback. We all need feedback, right? So when it comes, it becomes a part of what you do every day.
Lori Clark: (07:04)
Then when there are situations where, you know, you, you hear a lot of times, like people say, oh, my door is always open. Well, what, what does that mean really? Is it really? Um, but I think people start to feel comfortable and feel like it is really always open if in every day, um, conversations that request for their feedback is coming up. And also you giving feedback as well is coming up, being transparent about that. Um, you know, so it's, it's not something I feel like that you can just say, come talk to me if you have a problem. It's more about being aware of what's going on and, and maybe sometimes even reaching out like, Hey, I noticed X, Y, Z, um, let's talk through that. Or are you having trouble, like, being a little bit intuitive about what's happening around you and not just as a leader being tunnel visioned to, okay, I've gotta check all this stuff off my, my list of to-dos. I don't have time to check in on so and so, um, I think being intentional and, and being organic in those conversations really does make your door quote always open.
Beth Sunshine: (08:18)
I like that philosophy. So it's not about checking a box, it's not about once a year in a review or even once a quarter in some sort of formal meeting asking for input or feedback. It's about literally all of the time mm-hmm. creating the space for that to happen so that use the word organically so that it becomes just more organically part of how you communicate. I really like that
Lori Clark: (08:45)
And I think it makes those, um, scheduled times more productive as well, because you're not talking about things or bringing up things that have been like building, building. It's, they're more productive meetings because some of that stuff has already been taken care of on its own. And then when you're asking them in those, you know, structured meetings, what do you need from me? How can I help you? It's, it's not just something they like made up to have something written down. It's really thoughtful and good information for, and they feel like they can tell you, right? Hmm. I can't say I want feedback and then not hear the feedback. Right. Um, you can disagree with it, um, for sure. But as a leader, it also goes back to that, you know, saying it doesn't matter what I intended something, how someone would receive something, it only matters how they receive it, so I've gotta adjust how I'm saying it. So they're receiving it in a way that's productive and gets the point across.
Beth Sunshine: (09:47)
Yeah, I like that. So, so actually kind of getting to the bottom of what they heard from you is, is key too. So we, we talked about employees feeling heard and how important it is to, you know, to value their voice. I actually had a manager recently say, and I like the way she said this, that everybody has a voice, but not everybody has a vote. Because sometimes I think it gets in the way of good leaders asking for opinions or input or feedback because they think, well, what if I ask what they think and then I don't actually go in that direction? I might lose their trust or their confidence. Um, but what I'm hearing from you is that trust and that confidence and just that sharing is happening all the time organically, people are feeling heard. And I would imagine you probably agree with the, everybody has a voice, even though everyone does not have a vote. Is that right? Or am I putting words in
Lori Clark: (10:45)
Your mouth? No, no, that's absolutely correct. The, the, the, the other difference being when you are transparent and, you know, if for some reason somebody made a suggestion or gave feedback and, you know, we didn't take that suggestion, I would also round back with them and, and, and explain to them the why and try to make sure that they saw the bigger picture. And again, we can agree to disagree, but this is the why behind that decision. And yes, we valued what feedback you gave us, and this is where we took that into account, but this is the why we ended up here. And then that way they're not mad about you not taking their feedback. Right. But hopefully they understand the bigger picture because, you know, there's different vantage points for every situation, right? And you don't always have the luxury of knowing what all those are, but the more you do know, the better decisions you can make. So having somebody's feedback, whether or not you agree with it or take it, is still really important and they need to understand that too.
Beth Sunshine: (11:52)
I love that. And just closing the loop, going back and telling people why, why you made that decision. I, I bet that makes people feel more informed and even more likely in the future to speak up and continue to share. Mm-hmm. , I like that. Okay, so back to this engage report. We learned that only 57% of people do feel fully informed about things that relate to their work. And by the way, the question was not just do you feel informed about your company, it was specifically how do you feel informed about the things specifically related to, to your work that you need to do. Only 57% of people felt that they, they had all of the information they needed. So I'm coming to you as someone who does this really well. What advice do you have for managers when it comes to information sharing with teams or with individuals? Any best practices you'd recommend?
Lori Clark: (12:50)
I mean, I, I, my philosophy is to be as transparent as possible. Um, because when you are, again, it's back to that whole thing of them understanding the bigger picture and then also being able to help problem solve. If you have all of the information, then you're better equipped to one problem solve on your own, or two, make recommendations when you have an issue. Like, Hey, this is the problem, here's what I'm thinking. Um, it's, you know, in terms of them not having all the information, if that is gonna happen, unfortunately from time to time, not because anybody doesn't, wants to hold back the information, or at least in our, in our organization or our department, it's, it's purely sometimes a time thing. And with us being so remote too, sometimes things do get lost in transition. Um, oh, I thought I mentioned that. Or, you know, but, but every one of the leaders on our team we're usually pretty much in lockstep in terms of philosophies and strategies might, the details might be different, but the messaging is very similar in terms of the overall goals.
Lori Clark: (14:05)
So they know that they can go to any one of us and get the information that they need. And because we have created this culture of giving us feedback, they are not shy about saying, Hey, why didn't we know about this? Or, Hey, I'm hearing X, Y, Z. Um, the other thing about being transparent, I have found is that if you're not, then they just make things up. Right? So I'd rather people really know, even if it's a difficult conversation or even if it's something that they don't want to hear or they're not gonna, like, I would rather them know about it than speculate and make things up, because that is detrimental in other ways too.
Beth Sunshine: (14:47)
That's a really good point. We tend to, just, as human beings, we fill the vacuum when there's some sort of void, we, we start supposing why something's happening or guessing what's gonna happen. And, and sometimes you're right. The truth is, is is better than where people's minds might go. I love the fact that your leaders are all in lockstep, and I really like that your philosophy is transparency, and it sounds like even just potentially overcommunicating in order to avoid under communicating. I know for me, I'm a very transparent person. If I haven't shared something with someone, it's truly just oversight on my part. Mm-hmm. . And so like you, I want to create that kind of culture where people will ask, you know, wait a minute, I didn't know what happened. Um, really relate.
Lori Clark: (15:35)
Trust you more as well. And then the other thing I'll say about sometimes I've heard people, leaders say, well, ooh, do you trust everybody with that information? Yes, I do actually. Mm. Um, trust to me is a really big thing. And you know, you, you would, you, when we hire you into the organization, you automatically come in, in my mind with a hundred percent trust. Yeah. Right? Um, and then every day after that, you're e either continuing to build that or you're breaking it down, right? Everything we do either builds trust or takes it away, but I do believe that when you come on board with us, you're getting that right up front. A hundred percent, I trust you. So if for some reason you don't trust someone on your team, then they really, that's a whole nother conversation that you just probably shouldn't have 'em on their team, on your team. Honestly.
Beth Sunshine: (16:27)
That's a good point. Trust is that important that if there's someone there that you, you can't trust with important information, you need to question while why they're there. Mm-hmm. . Yeah. So I wanna kinda stick with the conversation related to trust specifically. One of the things we work really hard to create with our clients is something that we call psychological safety. And that's become quite the buzzword over the years. Um, but it's really about creating that environment where people just trust that they can be themselves, they can speak their mind, they can raise alarm bells when they see a problem, or they can celebrate success when they're excited. They can just bring their whole selves to work and be respected for that. There won't be any sort of repercussions or, or punishment for being who you are. And so that's, you know, that whole concept of psychological safety, I think plays into valued voice.
Beth Sunshine: (17:28)
If people feel safe, if they feel, um, you know, comfortable in, in their position, they're more likely to speak up and more likely to therefore earn information back from their manager. And there are so many examples in history of companies that have experienced significant business setbacks that could have been avoided because they lacked psychological safety. So I wanna explore this a little bit with you. The, the most well known of those, and certainly the most tragic I can think of is probably the example of Boeing, where one of their leaders was aware of some issues and yet not comfortable, afraid to ring the alarm bells. Um, so this is something we care a lot about. And I wanna ask you, because you do create a place where people, they trust you and they, they know you trust them. What are some things that managers can do specifically to avoid breaking that trust, to avoid losing that or creating an environment where people don't feel as though they can speak up or ask questions? What should they avoid?
Lori Clark: (18:44)
Yeah, I think the main thing you should avoid is like, when somebody does speak up, if you disagree and it's in a group setting that you don't like, you, you can nicely disagree without like making the person feel like that they spoke up and now you think what they said was dumb mm-hmm. , um, you can, you, you know, you, you pull out something that was positive and then you circle back on the rest of it. So I think that's one really important to make sure that people know that they can speak up without being attacked or feeling like that, that their feedback was not good or positive or what you wanted to hear. The other thing I would say is, you know, coaching in the moment is so important. Yeah. Um, because you can't, one, you can't let things build because it's not fair to the employee.
Lori Clark: (19:39)
If you're frustrated with something that they're doing and you don't tell them and they keep on doing it, that's, that's not fair to them. And honestly, you as a leader, it's not fair to you either because you really need to be able to trust people and you need to not be checking off like a ding against people. Like, it's more about helping them to grow and be successful so that you don't have to oversee anything. Mm-hmm. . And when you hire somebody, it's very important that you are clear about the expectations and you give them the tools that they need to be successful, but then you're also coaching them. Like I said, in the moment when things happen and if there's a bigger issue among multiple people, don't send something out that to the entire group when you're really talking to a few people. Hmm. Because the people that you're not talking to think you're talking to them and the people you are talking to think you're not talking, oh,
Beth Sunshine: (20:37)
Lori Clark: (20:37)
So you solve nothing, but getting people riled up that are not the problem. Right?
Beth Sunshine: (20:43)
Lori Clark: (20:44)
Yeah. And then the other thing is, you know, I also feel like this is where it gets hard as a leader, right? You naturally, you like certain people more so than you like others. That's just part of life, right? You are drawn to certain people's personalities more than others. Not necessarily like, but you're drawn to people more so than others sometimes. So what I do sometimes is a little trick on my brain, right? I say, Hey, if, if I was making this decision or talking to X person who I'm drawn to quite a bit, what would my response be? And if I was talking to X person who I'm not really drawn to, what would my response be? And usually it's somewhere in the middle. So when I'm having trouble making a decision, that's kind of what I do for myself to make sure that I'm being fair and consistent. Because I will tell you that, that being fair and consistent is one of the most important things you can do for the team. Because no matter what, if they think that you're gonna be fair and consistent regardless of the person, that just, that goes a long way to keeping morale up, to keeping, um, just to keeping the, the, a positive culture. If, if they feel like you're picking favorites, whether you are or you are not, the perception is that you are, that can be detrimental to the culture.
Beth Sunshine: (22:17)
It's a very interesting exercise, sort of challenging yourself to consider how you would do something differently with two different people. I like that. Very interesting. Thank you for sharing that. So we were talking just a moment ago about some tricky communication aspects. I wanna look at that from a departmental standpoint and the communication that can happen between departments or even lack of only 27% of those surveyed believe that their interdepartmental communication is strong. Most people, 59% of them felt like it could be better, and 14% said that it is a significant problem. So I know this whole concept of valued voice, it, it's not just about a manager and a direct report, it also involves valuing the voices, you know, across departments and in every job role. What's some best practices you might recommend to help departments improve here?
Lori Clark: (23:14)
I, I think that that's probably one of the harder things we do as leaders communicating across departments. Mm-hmm. , because it's kind of like when you work in, you know, if you've ever worked in a nonprofit or you had a board of volunteers, like how you get people to do things that they might not really want to do. Um, I think it, well, first of all, I'm not the expert on it, but I am working on this. This is one of the things I'm really working hard on and I feel like I've gotten better on it. But I think it's really about being empathetic, putting yourself in the other person's shoes, and then really trying to identify the common goals. And then when you're having those discussions, you're really pointing to whatever that common goal is. Um, so that whatever the outcome is, outcome is, it makes them achieve something they need to achieve.
Lori Clark: (24:07)
Mm-hmm. along with something that you need to achieve as well. The other thing I will say is sometimes we, you know, or at least I do, I'm very good about telling my team they did a great job. Um, I don't always do that, the same cross-department. Mm-hmm. . So I think it's important to, cuz usually what I have found is usually when you're working across departments, you're trying to solve a problem or brainstorm a collaboration, right? Mm-hmm. , so lots of times it's problem solving. So every time they're hearing from you, it's solving a problem. It's not a positive conversation. So just making sure that you take those organic opportunities to say, Hey, I saw this, this was really good. Um, you know, I saw what we did on X story. I thought that was awesome. You know, just making sure that you're giving positive feedback to them too, because everybody likes to hear positive feedback, right?
Lori Clark: (25:10)
So then when you are having those more difficult conversations, the only time they're hearing from you is not when there's a problem or not when there's, you're trying to get them to do something you need them to do. Yes. Um, so I think that, that, that has been helpful. And then the other thing is, you know, a lot of times those cross-department meetings are multiple people in the room or in the Zoom. Um, and not, not everything is meant to be a big group discussion. So sometimes even having a, a quick pre-meeting, pre-call plan, so to speak, before the big meeting is helpful as well.
Beth Sunshine: (25:53)
Okay. So empathy, that's where you started. I like that step. Stepping into someone's shoes, the shared goal was also really interesting. You may be working towards one thing, but the person or the group you're interacting with, maybe working towards something totally different. So finding that common goal, the constant recognition of good work and praise, so the tough conversations are balanced out. Mm-hmm. , um, all really, really good advice. So as long as you're on a roll with advice, we just have a few seconds left. So I wanna close with, I will get real broad again in just a sentence or two, maybe a few. What would be the one piece of advice you would give your closest friend if they asked you, what is the one thing I should do to improve culture or engagement at my company? What would you recommend?
Lori Clark: (26:43)
That's, it's hard for me to say that in one or two sentences, but I'm gonna try really hard.
Lori Clark: (26:48)
So, first thing is hire good people and make sure they're in the right role, right? That their strengths line up with the correct role, trust them, be fair and consistent. Support them, but also give them coaching in the moment. Whether it be good or bad though. And, and I think I already said be fair and consistent, but mm-hmm good people trust clear expectations, fair and consistent and feedback. Ooh, I know that was a lot.
Beth Sunshine: (27:19)
That was good. No, that was a really good list of, of five and it's hard to narrow it down, but it's, it's nice to hear what you think that the big rocks are. So thank you. And thank you just for your time today. I, I enjoyed talking about culture, talking about people, and valuing voice over coffee today. Um, you shared a, a lot of good information, some really good best practices and ideas. I know I'll be putting some of these to you, I'm sure our listeners will as well. So for those listening, I'm going to drop Lori's LinkedIn information in the show notes so you can connect with her on LinkedIn. And then I'm also going to drop in the link to the Engage 2022 report so you can dive in to any additional information that might interest you. So thank you Lori, and thank you to all of our listeners. Enjoy that journey to up your culture. Thanks so much for spending time with us on Culture Over Coffee. If you've enjoyed the conversation, be sure to subscribe and join us for every episode. For more helpful information on the topics of company culture and employee engagement, visit firstname.lastname@example.org.