For 18 years, Tracey Gurton has helped transform workplace culture through her award-winning programs in leadership communication and organizational behaviour at UBC Sauder Executive Education.
Describe your teaching style in Executive Education.
My approach is collaborative. In Executive Education, there is just so much wisdom that participants bring to the room. It behooves us to facilitate the sharing of that wisdom and do so enthusiastically. So first we create a welcoming, inclusive, supportive, and energized climate so people feel safe.
But to bring that to life, there are activities, group discussions, case studies, roleplay, private individual reflections, feedback to and from others, and storytelling. We learn very well through storytelling and metaphor. It’s a powerful vehicle.
What are some critical things managers need to do to be successful communicators?
Communicate symbolically through your actions. People pay very close attention to what managers do and to their general style. So ask yourself if your actions are characterized by treating others with dignity and respect.
Demonstrate empathy, but give clarity around your expectations. This includes measurable goals, specific deliverables or deadlines. Prepare to offer direct fact-based feedback to help people accomplish those objectives and connect those deliverables to organizational strategy and the big picture.
People struggle with organizational change. How do you equip managers to lead people through it?
Preventing some of the challenges associated with change is key. The more regularly we educate people in an organization about the big picture of our business, the more ownership they’ll take and the more connected they’ll feel to their company’s success. Employees are much more committed if they’re included in the process.
Organizational transformation, to a considerable extent, incudes a lot of asking folks to do things differently, and that requires support, encouragement, new skills and some rewards and celebration along the way.
How do you define a great organizational culture and how do you cultivate them?
It is imperative that decision-makers get clear on the difference between mission, vision and values. Members of the culture should agree on the organization’s core values and exhibit these with relative intensity, through artifacts, behaviours, stories, symbols and language.
Embedded within your core company values must be a commitment to improve and change. It needs to be safe to take risks, needs to be safe to speak up, to challenge the status quo and to embrace the overlooked gift of what we call constructive conflict.
Hire for fit, train for skills. You want to hire smart people who want to learn, want to make a difference and who are nice to be around. Then give them the tools, support and resources they need. Set challenging goals with them, offer lots of coaching and then get out of their way and watch them soar along with your organization’s strategy. Just watch them shine.
How do you ensure participants are being equipped with strategies they can put to work the day they get back to the office?
I challenge participants to go make the world of work a better place, because then employees are more productive and innovative, and the organization is more competitive and often more profitable.
What is the most significant thing you've noticed about how the course transforms participants' abilities?
We get some great feedback from clients, but one way to know what we’re hitting the right tone is when they come back for more of what we offer. It’s very encouraging when people return for the next stage of their development.