Nissan recently dismissed its long-time chairman Carlos Ghosn after a much-publicised investigation into allegations of financial misconduct.
Ghosn has been at the company since 1999, and has previously been viewed — even celebrated — as a cost-cutting saviour of the carmaker.
Now, he has been ousted following an investigation that has led to him being questioned by prosecutors in Nissan’s home country, Japan. All of which has been covered as a striking fall from power for an executive who was once lauded by many. Step away from the details of the case itself, however, and what should really impress more than anything else is the fact that it was a company investigation, prompted by an internal whistle-blower.
The company evidently responded to internal concerns and acted on that information, regardless of any implicit corporate imperative or public relations concern.
Transparency and the willingness of an organisation to listen to its employees is one of those factors that is often easier to talk about in theory, than to act upon in reality. Most businesses love to suggest that they are open and willing to listen, but they often find that everything from organisational structure to an unwillingness to voice an opinion can circumscribe their efforts.
Sometimes, an organisation is simply not set up to convey opinions and ideas up the hierarchy. Other times, an organisation’s culture just makes it unlikely those opinions will be voiced in the first place.
And this doesn’t simply apply to the outlier cases of corporate concerns the are truly global and newsworthy. The ineffectiveness of communication channels is frequently the reason why business process inefficiencies continue long after employees and managers have suffered through them for months.
It can also be why innovation slows despite having a talented, creative workforce that generates regular ideas and new directions. Great innovations and useful business insights might be formed every day, but if they aren’t being conveyed where they need to get to, it can be as if they never existed.
Removing this kind of blocker to organisational effectiveness means creating a communications process with a few critical components.
Enabling culture needed
To begin with, you need a culture that empowers employees to air ideas and concerns.
People need to feel that their opinions matter to their employer. And that needs to be paired with a readiness from managers and leaders to listen to those viewpoints. Practically, there needs to be opportunities to listen — whether in coaching sessions, one-to-one meetings, or some form of suggestion box system.
And structurally, managers need to be guided that listening to employees and conveying their ideas is a key part of their function as managers.
After that, you need an organisational structure that allows voices to be heard. There may certainly need to be an element of filtering suggestions and ideas upon the way, but an organisation should be structurally set up so that those at the top hear voices that aren’t simply edited versions that subordinates believe they would want to hear.
Lastly, a business and its leaders need to be ready to act when they become aware of key issues. Whether it is a fantastic new product idea, or a worry over the performance of a business unit, a leadership team should be willing to act — albeit with all necessary thought — as soon it receives information it should do something with.
This is the striking element of what happened with Ghosn — his company has evidently acted upon information, even where it is clear that it could have implications for the company’s share price, public perception, and short-term stability.
By doing so, it has demonstrated an effective internal communication process that it believes will, ultimately, improve the company’s long-term position. It might not have been easy, and it might not have been comfortable, but it serves as a great case study in communicating important information through a large and complex organisation.
Ahmad Badr is CEO of Knowledge Group.