Why You Need to Pay Attention to the Tone at the Top

Why You Need to Care About the Tone at the Top

The first quarter of a calendar year can be a reflective time that results in a reset of both organizational and business goals. There’s consideration given to talent issues carrying over from last fall and anticipation of new hires or even restructuring that may happen in the coming months. Regardless of the direction, your people will be looking to you for communication that will set the agenda, not just for action, but for commitment and alignment between objectives and what they need to do to support them.

It’s easy in the rush to move forward to underestimate the impact of the tone you set in the first few management meetings or one-on-one’s with team members. Building a strong culture that enables people to really deliver will depend on leaders being aware of their behaviour, the transparency they provide, and the accountability they expect.

How is the tone you are setting affecting your ability to get the results you seek? Here are some things to think about in calibrating the messages you convey:

Is your volume getting the message across? Many leaders have a key strength or style trait that’s contributed to their success. If you’re known for providing practical fact-based solutions and that’s your default setting, there may be times when the volume on that approach may be too high. There will be times when a more inspirational, bigger picture or longer-term reason for doing something may garner a greater level of support, and without it, your ability to influence will be limited. Consider getting feedback on the degree to which you may be overusing a strength to the detriment of your team.

Does your cadence bring people with you? When you’re looked to for solutions at every turn, you may default to talking (telling) more than listening. If you find yourself in the role of “answer person”, frequent intentional pauses in your conversation allow more air time for input from others.  It gives them the space to provide those additional perspectives that can only come from someone on the front lines. Talking less and listening more can set a more collaborative tone that respects the views and contributions of others.

Does the pace need a double check? Is the tone of your communication one that conveys urgency for everything? Or can you throttle back to ensure the important, not just the urgent, remains front and centre? Your pace may include late night or weekend emails with the expectation of a quick response, or a tendency to micromanage the details to ensure people stay on track. Consider your motivation with the urgency you convey. Is it driven by a true results orientation or founded in fear or an unfilled need for acceptance, power, or safety?

Is the message ringing true? Many organizations are in growth mode these days, and a lot of people are feeling under resourced and stretched to cope with expanding workloads and insufficient support to get the job done within a decent workday. In this scenario, is your tone conveying a downside to the current prosperity of the business? Extensive or indeterminate waiting to get approval to bring on new hires, or move into less cramped workspace, or postponing salary increases or bonuses until the end of the year or next, will lead your best players to either disengage or leave. Moreover, such messaging leads to lower morale overall, weakened problem solving, and stagnant productivity at the very time when you need the full commitment of your people.

If you want to set a tone for productivity and engagement, remember you have a choice in the messages you convey and the tone they set.  The social dynamic of your firm requires that leaders, or “the people in power” walk their talk to demonstrate the very behaviours and attitudes they expect to see.  When leader communication is delivered in a way that truncates input, drives the urgent, and reinforces the minimums, it can unwittingly destroy the very fabric of the culture you’re trying to create. To influence successfully, one must start with the person in the mirror. People do hear what you say, and most importantly, they always remember what you do. The tone you set will always be reflected in the results you receive.