More attention on the weak signal

In an organisation, the leadership has the strongest signal. The leaders have direct access to Wi-Fi and call centres, while the people who “push the buttons and use the tools” can only use the much weaker signals.

Author and director at eKhuluma, Jürgen Tietz, shares an analogy on how relationships of employees and employees in an organisation are like signals: management has the most signals, while those “who press buttons” have weaker signals. It’s nevertheless important to acknowledge the “weaker signals” and reassure them that they do make a difference.

Tietz writes:

We’re surrounded by signals all the time, from radio, TV, mobile devices and, nowadays, Wi-Fi. It’s getting to the point where there’s so much noise that we only hear the louder, specifically targeted messages. The weaker signals just get lost, unless we move to a better spot so as to hear more clearly.

This analogy applies to many relationships, whether it is in the family through parenting, or in organisations through leadership, or in politics (Gupta). Where there is power, or a hierarchy, at play, the situation often becomes one-sided. The one who is in power talks and expects the others to listen – it’s a case of “Do as I tell you.”

In an organisation, the leadership has the strongest signal. The leaders have direct access to Wi-Fi and call centres, while the people who “push the buttons and use the tools” can only use the much weaker signals. The Wi-Fi is made up of policies, procedures, papers and all sorts of instructions. It’s all top down, one-way communication, which often complicated by conflicting and inconsistent signals, such as “Safety First and Zero Harm, but meet the Production, Costs, Quality and other Targets first…”.

The Suggestion box, BBS observations, H&S representatives reports and other tools and techniques used to connect with the people who push the buttons and use the tools are the equivalent of the call centre. You hear clearly: “Your call is important to us, and will be attended to shortly… For quality purposes the call will be recorded… We are currently experiencing high call volumes… Please hold.” In the end, the call is logged but seldom leads to ACTION.

The weak signals are always there, if we care to listen carefully. Every time there’s an enquiry or investigation into a serious incident or injury, we hear these weak signals clearly. They often start with “We” followed by “told; observed; reported; requested; asked; complained; warned you” and similar action words. Often the organisation’s culture weakens the signals further by virtue of the fear of speaking up or taking a stand, various threats, blaming and shaming, a lack of action and priority or being taken seriously.

These weak signals require little effort to pick up on at the time but, if lost in the noise, can lead to serious consequences.

Take a careful look at the different signals inside the organisation. The Critical Success Factors for a better reception are:
• Create a climate that rewards weak signals, even if they turn out to be false signals.
• Make it personal, with a name or photo.
• Provide prompt, direct feedback.
• Show that the weak signals are being taken seriously and are making a difference.
• Give the people who push the buttons a real voice – one that will be heard and taken seriously, eg, via a direct line to the CEO or MD.

The climate will change dramatically. All employees, without exception, own a mobile device, often a smartphone, and are using free apps such as WhatsApp. So what’s stopping you?

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