Shape & Sustain A Culture of Voice - Interview With Dr. Rob Bogosian

Yana Prokopets
Dec 9, 2015
Last updated: Dec 3, 2018
Dr. Rob Bogosian, co-author of "Breaking Corporate Silence" with Christine Mockler Casper, is founder and principal consultant at RVB Associates, Inc.

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Which organizational skills are most important in today's world?


With the pace of technological change and disruptive innovation likely to accelerate in the future, the organizational skills most important in today’s world are (1) efficiency/consistency and (2) innovation.

Tackling goals in an efficient and consistent way encourages logical, linear thinking, planning and problem solving. Planning and thinking efficiently is essential to eliminate non-value added processes. In addition, organizations must concurrently support innovation and a healthy attitude toward divergent thinking. Many managers culturally or structurally demonstrate a preference for one discipline versus the other, but when both disciplines coexist, they can increase the chances for sustained competitive advantage at any organization.

What organization mistakes do you see managers do most often?

Constraining employee thoughts, views and opinions is an organizational mistake I see managers make most often. These constraints can lead to a Culture of Silence – a major threat today in corporate life. A Culture of Silence means managers aren’t hearing ideas, views and opinions from team members, or some critical knowledge isn’t being transferred between employees and managers.

For managers who create a Culture of Silence, there’s a solution. The most essential competency for 21st century leaders in complex organizations is the ability to shape and sustain a Culture of Voice. A Culture of Voice exists when every employee feels that their voice has merit and that they are free from retribution if and when they disclose important work-related information. Creating a Culture of Voice means leaders believe all of their team members have something to contribute, not just the “go to” employees. When nurturing a Culture of Voice, leaders demonstrate openness to divergent thinking and ask more for input than telling others what to think or what to do.

Recently, many companies have been rethinking their structure and how they are managed. Flat company, holacracy, participatory management - there are a lot of new ideas flowing around. Which organizational trends will have the biggest impact in the next 10 years in your opinion?

Two major organizational trends that will have the biggest impact are the speed at which technology is improving and the transient nature of the next workforce generation. Innovation and social capital will also be critical and key organizational capabilities in the 21st century. Innovation requires a healthy attitude toward divergent thinking (ATDT). ATDT is driven by a measurable personality trait called “openness,” or the level of desire and interest in new and different experiences. It is not certain whether “openness” can be developed; however it can become part of the selection process if it is to become a core competency.

A strong ATDT enables organizations to transfer knowledge quickly. The pace at which knowledge transfers throughout an organization depends upon the strength of an organization’s social capital. Knowledge is socially constructed so a strong social capital enables team members to transfer knowledge faster than their competition.

The best method to strengthen social capital is through deliberate social events such as retreats, development experiences, forums or small group social events. Unfortunately, when companies look to cut costs, they immediately eliminate social capital building – such as training and development – which then has the unintended consequence of limiting knowledge transfer, thus reducing and stagnating knowledge capital.

Which forms of organizations do you think will thrive and prosper and which ones will die out this century?

The organizations that are likely to thrive in 21st century are those that can master the balance between innovation and stabilization. This balance is difficult to achieve because they require different cognitive disciplines. Innovation requires a healthy ATDT and stabilization requires linear thinking with a focus on efficiency gains and process streamlining. Both disciplines are good for business growth and the challenge is for organizations to encourage and honor both concurrently. Living this duality is referred to as “the ambidextrous organization” (Smith & Tushman, 2005). Organizations that cannot become “ambidextrous” and stay focused only on efficiency gains over innovation will eventually die off.

In your book “Breaking Corporate Silence: How High-Influence Leaders Create Cultures of Voice" - it is stated that it is critical now more than ever that all employees have voice. Is it because the portrait of the modern organization has changed a lot?

It is important for every employee to have a voice, not only because the portrait of the modern organization has changed, but because knowledge exists at every level of an enterprise. Both knowledge transfer and knowledge capital are two components to a sustained competitive advantage at any organization.

Even more so, technology is now a resource that enables anyone, at any level, to acquire knowledge, allowing employees to communicate with each other faster than ever before. Advances in technology allow the old mental model of knowledge sharing on a “need to know” basis to become archaic and represents extreme organizational risk.

Successful organizations significantly reduce the risk of a crisis – such as ignition switch defects, trade violations, emission control violations, massive data security breaches or massive food manufacturing contamination (to name a few) – when they are able to create and sustain a Culture of Voice. A Culture of Voice exists when every employee knows for certain that their voice (opinions, views, recommendations for improvements) have merit. It’s important to keep in mind that the prerequisite to a Culture of Voice is a management belief that employees possess valuable data, insights and expertise from which everyone else at the organization can learn from. Until that belief permeates the management culture, a Culture of Voice remains a dream and makes a Culture of Silence, defined as the willful withholding of valuable work-related information, a likely reality.

What resources can you recommend to our readers who are interested in learning more about organizational skills and techniques?

For those interested in learning more about organizational skills and techniques, I strongly recommend that readers become familiar with these skills and practices:
  • Adapt the ways in which a Culture of Voice is constructed and shaped.
  • Learn the difference between Cultures of Voice and Cultures of Silence.
  • Practice the “The 80/20” rule. To learn from every employee, managers must listen carefully and draw out ideas 80 percent of the time during an interaction, and tell others their own views and ideas 20 percent of the time.
  • Challenge the belief that “manager” status entitles one to govern decisions and be the idea gatekeeper.
  • As a manager, beware of the signs of silence at your organization. The most common among them is the “Bovine Stare.” This occurs when managers get a blank stare from more than employee when they try to solicit ideas and views in group settings.
Thank you for the interview.

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