A Large Industrial Organization Builds a Speak-Up Culture

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The most transformative culture-change program in a firm’s 100-year history creates unprecedented impact.

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Key Points:

  • After uncovering a lack of quality communication, a large company embarked on a nine-month journey to create a culture of speaking up.
  • 96% of the company’s 100,000-plus employees participated in the program, leading to a more than 20-point average increase in speaking up globally.
  • One year later, new habits were even more embedded than they were just after the rollout.

The challenge

Following major setbacks, a 100-year-old company with 100,000-plus employees faced a crisis of trust, both internally and externally. As leadership began looking for ways to prevent future issues, it uncovered a lack of quality communication. Employees at all levels weren’t seeking out and listening to teammates’ concerns before they became major problems.

To repair damaged trust, strengthen relationships, and produce better business outcomes, the company sought the help of the NeuroLeadership Institute.

The science

  • NLI’s approach involved identifying key habits and teaching these to everyone rapidly in an “everyone to everyone” model using a digital distributed learning solution.
  • Habits were taught one at a time over 30 days using a digital platform.
  • NLI’s approach is based on the “speaking-up continuum”: First, build the habit of speaking up around relatively easy things, such as sharing ideas, before moving on to more challenging skills, such as challenging other people’s ideas or behaviors.

The solution

NLI partnered with the company to develop a three-part internal communication framework. Each of the three components reflects a critical element in a culture of speaking up. As the company’s CEO reminded his employees, it’s not enough for teammates to listen to one another. They must actively seek out concerns and feedback.

The framework rolled out in May 2021 to 800 employees in 30-day sprints, embedding one habit per week. Seven months later, following overwhelming success, the program was rolled out to the rest of the 140,000-plus employees around the world.

The results

The new framework has transformed how the company operates across talent and business practices, team processes and systems, and performance reviews. Between just after the rollout and the one-year mark, rates of daily use of the framework’s habits increased from 83% to 86%, signaling deep sustainment in the organization. The new habits didn’t just embed and sustain; they deepened.

The new habits reached the company’s employees in all corners of the globe. In Southeast Asia, employees reported a 24-point increase in comfort level of speaking up, and in Europe, employees reported a 16-point increase in managers caring about their happiness. In India, employees reported a 26-point increase in seeking outside perspectives.

Because of these habits, team managers report gathering more information from their employees and addressing issues earlier. According to one manager, when an employee gets approached by another, they stop what they’re doing, look the person in the eye, and engage in active listening. HR leaders have also infused the habits into new-hire interviews to gauge fit and stay interviews to keep employees engaged.

In factories, posted messages nudge employees to deploy the new habits. Internal channels send reminders to employees and provide updates. These sustainment efforts have added up to a culture of openness, safety, and trust.

“Moving forward, the expectation is that every teammate, including me, will be intentional about practicing these habits every day,” the company’s CEO told employees. “I’m confident that you will see a difference in how your team works together, how you make decisions, and how we as a company achieve our commitments to improving quality, integrity, and transparency.”

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