The great and powerful OS: why conversation is key to energizing employees and organizations

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What operating system (OS) does your organization run on?

According to howstuffworks.com, an operating system has a simple purpose: it “organizes and controls hardware and software so the device it lives in can behave in a predictable but flexible way.”

Now, stop thinking about technology as an OS for a moment and consider what else in your organization is powerful enough to keep employee behaviour in check and your business running smoothly – no matter what issues arise.

It’s not traditional employee engagement methods like surveys, town halls, newsletters and departmental action plans. No, it’s something much more fundamental than that.

It’s conversation.

Think of it: conversation is what enables all the “apps” in an organization to work. It feeds into and empowers customer service, feedback, coaching, strategy and innovation. As with any OS, all these business apps rely very heavily on conversation. How do we know this? Because without conversation – that is, if the system “crashes” – the entire organization is disabled.

The brain science

According to science, conversation is the operating system of the human brain. Neuron A transmits a message to Neuron B – and B receives that message. This simple neuronal conversation is the basic unit of communication, allowing our “software” (our brains) to talk to our “hardware” (our bodies). More than 100 billion neurons in our brains use these conversations to continuously power up our ability to see, hear and move.

But these “talking neurons” drive an even more elemental app: our thinking. In other words, the way we think is a conversation-driven process.

Without conversation between all those neurons in our brains, our bodies – and our ability to process information – would cease to function.

An operating system at work

As conversation is the OS of our individual brains, it shouldn’t surprise us that conversation is also the OS of entire organizations.

Research shows that neuronal conversations within our brains are significantly strengthened and enhanced by other people’s neuronal conversations – by social conversations “between brains.” According to world-renowned neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman, our brains are wired for reaching out to and interacting with others. This is precisely what conversation is all about. It’s our native wiring: the perfect operating system we need to connect and harmonize with others.

So, as neuronal conversations are the way the brain gets things done, employee conversations are the way that organizations get things done.

Essentially, conversation is what binds an organization’s “hardware” (such as facilities and technology) and “software” (such as people and intellectual property), allowing them to function flexibly and predictably.

But, despite its undeniable power, conversation is rarely if ever taken into account when organizations create and implement employee engagement initiatives.

Why this matters

Conversation has many benefits, including offering leaders a clear understanding of the “backstory” behind engagement scores. However, organizations often jump to action without context, creating broad-brush, one-size-only action.

Being presented with a solution devoid of conversation practically guarantees employee non-adherence – or even covert resistance – to any engagement initiative. This is because implementing a plan without having conversations fails to honour how the brain operates.

Moving beyond engagement as we know it today is about honouring our native wiring, which needs to use conversation to drive the apps that make things easier and produce great results.

Everything changes for the better when leaders use conversation to draw out what matters most to employees. Not only does this enable the co-creation of conditions that generate meaningful, sustainable energy, but also employees begin to manage their own engagement.

Powering up the organizational OS

Meaningful conversation and employee engagement go hand in hand. Here’s why: studies show that high-quality conversation releases high-performance hormones in the brain, promoting trust, focus and creativity. In essence, conversation can deepen the leader-employee relationship, energizing employees and therefore unlocking results.

Short, simple “energy check” conversations are a proven and effective way to power up all the apps in your organization. Conversation syncs with how people think. It can be as simple as asking employees what is energizing them at the moment, and what is depleting their energy. Done systematically, this technique can catch issues before they become real problems, saving time in the process.

Conversation creates natural opportunities to unlock insight and possibility in employees’ minds. This generates energy, which fuels a great customer experience and great results. Because of that, conversation is an OS that costs little – but yields much more than you likely ever thought possible. 

Brady Wilson (www.bradywilson.com) is co-founder of Juice Inc., a corporate training company that services organizations from Toronto to Los Angeles.