MassMutual Fosters Open Communication

Enlisting the support of VitalSmarts and its Crucial Conversations program, Mass Mutual Financial Group developed a yearlong plan to train managers and employees.

Edited by Margery Weinstein

Through employee engagement survey feedback, MassMutual Financial Group saw an opportunity to improve its ability to foster open and direct communication. This includes peer-to-peer and employee-to-manager communications.

The company enlisted the support of VitalSmarts and its Crucial Conversations program. MassMutual identified 17 mid-level managers to become certified instructors and developed a yearlong plan to train managers and employees. The training effort started at the top with the executive leadership team and has resulted in 95 percent of all vice presidents and above completing training, as well as 70 percent of all other managers and 25 percent of all employees. The company’s CEO views this program as part of the culture change necessary to sustain MassMutual’s successful business model into the future.

The Crucial Conversations program is a 12-hour workshop centered on the art and science of having difficult conversations. The program also hones managers’ ability to create a safe environment where employees can voice concerns and share their opinions without fear of retribution. “We realized too much time was spent engaging the wrong people, or individuals were afraid to speak up—particularly when it came to complex decision-making and problem-solving,” the company says. “We also wanted to eliminate unproductive ‘hallway conversations’ and reduce the number of unproductive meetings. We found we were scheduling meeting after meeting because employees didn’t speak up, or nobody took accountability in a meeting.”

A Crucial Conversation is defined as one having “High Stakes, Strong Emotions, and Opposing Viewpoints.” MassMutual began with managers, teaching them how to recognize when a conversation was going “crucial,” and when employees were entering into “silence” and not sharing their concerns or ideas. As the company completed manager training in a business line, it developed a sustainability plan using VitalSmarts’ 6-Source Influencer Model. Examples of this change model include:

  1. Having Crucial Conversations posters depicting the model for effective dialogue in all company conference rooms to remind meeting attendees of the importance of speaking up.
  2. Inclusion of a “Crucial Corner” in the department newsletter sharing situations and examples of how to have a successful conversation.
  3. Managers pair up and act as each other’s Crucial coaches. The ability for employees and managers to “practice” a crucial conversation is important to their success.
  4. Managers are reinforcing use of the skills and providing coaching in their staff meetings.
  5. Addition of a performance objective for all managers to create a “safe” environment for employees.
  6. Development of a recognition program for employees involved in situations where crucial conversations skills were used.

MassMutual has seen an improvement in productivity of meetings, and the number of meetings has been reduced. “We fully expect to see an improvement in our employee engagement results,” the company says, “particularly in the dimension around employees willing to speak up.”

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