Communication… An Ongoing Organizational Challenge
Tips for Communicating More Effectively With Employees
Remember the famous line from Cool Hand Luke… “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” Although dated, the phrase continues to be applicable in organizations. Before we begin most projects with our clients, we conduct an employee satisfaction survey, also known as an employee opinion survey, to better know what areas we need to address. Among other questions, we always ask employees to rate communication within their organization, using a one-to-ten rating scale (with one being low, and ten high). Typically, employees respond somewhere in the middle of the scale, rating their organization between five and seven. This average rating is again validated when we look at the PBS Overall Benchmark for the category dealing with communication. Only 67% of the nearly 85,000 employees responding to questions dealing with communication agree that communication within their organization is effective.
This is surprising, considering that at no time in our country’s history have we been better equipped to communicate with the people in our organizations. We have the internet, intranets, email, instant messaging, voicemail, texting, iPhones, BlackBerrys, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, and even Twitter… and the message still gets lost. With the everyday use of technology to assist us in communicating the message, why do employees still feel, despite management’s best efforts, that there is room for improvement in communication within organizations? The following tips are designed to help managers communicate more effectively with employees and are based on comments we frequently hear from employees.
Consider What and How Much to Communicate
Some employees share with us, “It’s not that management doesn’t communicate with us, it’s just that there is so much information each day… I’m suffering from information overload!” With one or two swift keystrokes we can blitz the entire organization with our important message. Our experience as management consultants leads us to believe that organizations who blitz their employees with bulletins, memos, letters, announcements, and policy statements are, in effect, defeating their purpose.
In many cases, more communication does not equate with better communication. What happens when everyone gets the message, regardless of the medium used to deliver the message, is that employees selectively screen out what they process. This is a normal response to feeling bombarded, or a victim of information overload. Consider carefully what information you release, and who really needs to know. Resist the temptation to “blanket” the organization with the message, which when done repeatedly, causes employees to tune out.
Determine Who Can Best Communicate the Message
With any form of organizational communication, there can be problems. Employees may misinterpret communication. They may not understand implications of the communication as it relates specifically to them. They may determine that the communication does not pertain to them, when in reality it does. In most organizations, decisions are made at the top, and filtered down to employees through several levels within the organization.
Research from employee satisfaction surveys suggest that the best person to communicate the message, specifically if the communication relates to change within the organization, is the employee’s supervisor. Typically, trust levels are higher between the employee and supervisor, and the employee feels more confident questioning the supervisor regarding the communication. Further, the employee is more likely to provide input regarding implications that relate specifically to their job function. In dynamic organizations, where both downward and upward communications are valued, employees will provide greater input if their supervisor communicates the message.
What Medium Will Best Deliver the Message?
If employees would prefer to hear about important information from someone they work closely with, then the next question becomes, how will the manager deliver the message? With all the mediums available, employees tell us they still prefer, when possible, to hear it in person from their boss. One employee recently said, “It would have taken her less time to say that directly to me than to send me an e-mail. She only communicates with me electronically! It makes me wonder what she really thinks about me.”
Communicating only by e-mail, while efficient, can come across as impersonal, and may increase employee alienation. On the other hand, saying it in person allows you to gather feedback, both verbal and nonverbal. In some cases, an electronic transmission will be the most efficient and appropriate way to deliver the message. In other cases, the in-person delivery will be the best approach.
Plan a Positive Delivery
When delivering the message, focus on being direct, specific, and unbiased. As a member of the management team, it is important to project confidence in what is being communicated to your employees. Your attitude, when delivering the message, will in a large part determine the response of your employees. If you present the idea as having merit, your employees will be more positive in their response and more apt to “buy in” to what is being proposed. If you express doubt, we guarantee you that your employees will quickly support you in finding ways to prove that “it” won’t work and is just another one of management’s “off the wall” ideas.
Choose Your Words Carefully
Know your audience and appreciate their background and level of understanding. While you would never knowingly “talk down” to employees, make sure that the examples you use and the words you choose are understandable and appropriate. Words and concepts that you routinely use in management circles may not be the right ones to use when talking with employees. Check for understanding and make adjustments to your delivery, when needed.
Encourage Input from Employees
Establish a climate in which employees feel free to question and provide input. Many managers say they have an “Open Door Policy,” but their employees report differently. Bosses that are rushed and appear impatient are limiting the amount of input they will get from employees. When employees talk to you, get in the habit of stopping what you are doing, and focusing on what they are saying. Look at people when you speak with them. Maintaining eye contact sends the message, “I care about you and what you are saying.”
In addition, making time to actively listen, using paraphrasing and summarizing techniques, also conveys that you value employees’ input. Simply put, if you want people to share their insights with you on an ongoing basis, you must do your part to ensure that they feel confident and comfortable when conversing with you.
Don’t Forget the Value of Casual Conversation
Do not discount informal conversation within the work environment. Those managers who do a good job of encouraging employee input know that it starts by having good, day-to-day informal contacts with employees. It does not take much time to greet employees by name, or ask them how they are doing with a particular project. Being able to communicate casually with employees builds rapport between management and employees, and helps raise employees’ confidence in their ability to communicate effectively with management.
According to your employees, it is you that makes a difference in how they rate the effectiveness of communication at work. Following the simple steps listed above will help increase your communication effectiveness and, more importantly, build better morale and teamwork among your employees. Communication is not easy, but those managers that commit to taking steps to enhance their effectiveness as a communicator note not only better communication, but stronger commitment and loyalty from their employees.
In conclusion, if you are an organization that conducts employee satisfaction surveys, following the above tips will most likely improve your scores.
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