And lo and behold, Bruce stoodeth upon the tea room mountain and he did speaketh to the people. For Bruce was their manager and one day he did decide to communicate. And the people did come forth from their desks where they had sat rooted to their seats in virtual darkness, ignorant of information, wandering aimlessly without direction. “Let there be light”, proclaimed Bruce, thrusting his hands skyward beckoning a divine intervention, “for the light is information and it illuminates the path we must travel and gives us direction, meaning and purpose”, and the people did chorus Hallelujah and they began to move and Bruce lead the way (the right way and according to the company strategy).
“If you were to name the worst leader you’ve encountered, I’ll make a bet that one of your criticisms involves poor communications skills. Communications is intertwined with leadership, both good and bad. The universal need for leaders to develop strong, transparent, motivating communications is so prevalent that it’s become almost trite to say it. Yet it remains an issue with expensive ramifications in employee turnover, morale, and corporate potential.” Why leaders are poor communicators – Forbes
Trite! That’s right
This whole subject seemed trite to me, but I could ignore it no longer. If you’re going to write about what drives and improves Employee Engagement, then you need to write about communication. Then when you’re done, again, you need to write about communication.
Communication is King. All hail the King
If I could impress just one thing upon a leader, manager, or a person aspiring to be either, it would be “for goodness’ sake, communicate”. Communication is King when it comes to Employee Engagement. People want to know how, why, what and when. You do too, don’t you? Admit it. I know I do. This is the single most common theme that comes through from discussions on engagement. People want to know more. “Just tell us what’s going on, please”. We live in an information age where people are constantly searching for and seeking information and that should tell us something as managers.
Armed with information they can choose to follow, and it is those who choose to follow that are most engaged and are most productive.
You need to think about your team or your organisation as your family. Can you even begin to imagine planning a weekend away with your family but not telling them why you’re going, where you’re going, how you’re going to get there and what you’re going to do when you get there. I bet you can’t. It’s pretty fundamental stuff, isn’t it? So often we make the mistake of thinking our employees are happy to blindly travel on the journey with us with none of this information. Ok, will I pack my swim suit or my snowboard, or neither? The fact is they take longer to get in the car and when they do they argue the whole way in the back seat.
There are many reasons why we turn down the volume on communication
I don’t have time for all this talky mumbo jumbo
When we get busy, the first thing we do is stop communicating. We go head down and backside up, nose to the grind stone. All of a sudden, all the things we know add value seem to lose priority and we oil the squeaky wheel. We do this in both our personal life and our professional life. Tell me you haven’t ever delivered a “Not now, please, I am busy” to a child, or you can’t remember receiving one yourself. Employees don’t need you the same way your kids do, nagging until they get what they want, however, they stop asking, stop talking to you and start talking to each other. They disengage.
“Don’t ask me, I wouldn’t know.”
“I’m kept in the dark. I’m like a mushroom, fed on cow manure.”
“It’s a need to know basis around here, and apparently I need to know nothing.”
Just let me do what I do best
Many managers launch their career based on their technical expertise and that’s what they’re most comfortable with. Naturally when we are under pressure we revert back to what we can do instinctively and what we are comfortable with. For many, that’s just not communication.
When the comms stop, that’s when you stop being a leader and join the followers.
I’d rather poke myself in the eye with a stick than stand up and talk to a group
For some leaders, communication comes naturally and for others it just doesn’t. For some, the fear of being put under the microscope and analysed down to your DNA is enough to generate a decent list of reasons why you really have something more important to do – the fear of being taken out of context, of getting it wrong, or needing to change the message later and wearing the repercussions. Perhaps it’s better to say nothing. And often that’s what leaders do.
OK let’s talk action – Now we’re talking
“Communicate regularly by providing meaningful feedback in real time – Sure, effective communication may sound a little trite, but that’s because it‘s so fundamental to sound management. Strong managers invariably are excellent communicators. Providing ample feedback – both positive and negative – is a core skill. Make yourself readily available to those you manage. Be there, be present, be accessible. Even if you’re managing remotely, you’re still easily reachable by phone, email, text, etc. Better to be physically remote and easy to communicate with… than to be physically nearby but a distant communicator.” Fundamentals that can make you a better manager in 2014 – Forbes
Plan to communicate
You need to have a communication plan, even just an informal plan that keeps you honest. When will I communicate, how much time will I devote to this incredibly valuable activity. Employees need to know what to expect and when to expect it, and I am not suggesting a good plan is they expect very little and not very often. You need to ask them the question, “What do you want to know about?” and you need to add in what they need to know about. If your information is being cascaded through layers of management, then you need to be sure that the information integrity is maintained through the cascading. Each manager should have a clear understanding of the information to be presented and should be able to present it in a consistent manner. It is quite damaging to have conversations around the water cooler where some employees have been given one story, some have been given a similar story but perhaps with a different ending and others may have not even had a story.
When in doubt, stand and shout
Don’t underestimate the power in a 15 minute toolbox, stand up meeting. Get up on your soapbox and talk about what’s going on, the current initiatives, how we are tracking against our targets and budgets. I have heard lots of very positive feedback regarding these sessions when talking engagement with employees. They take very little time to conduct and really connect management and their employees.
Bad news is good news
Can you believe it, communication is so important that people even genuinely appreciate hearing the bad news every bit as much as the good news. Now I’m not silly, I know there are times when you simply can’t tell your staff every little thing that is going on and it may not necessarily be in their best interest to hear, but a general sense of the direction of the business is absolutely essential information. Open, honest and transparent communication is the key to connecting with and engaging your staff.
Which way are we facing and why?
Through my many engagement-based group discussions with employees I have found it to be the case that staff who feel engaged and invested in the company may want some degree of line of sight of the pointy end of the business. They don’t need to listen to phone taps from the CEO’s cell phone, but they need to be able to connect the work they are doing to the overall direction and strategy of the company and in so doing they are able to better visualise and their value to the company and how this influences their career.
Often, Key Performance Indicators are so localised that it is difficult to connect what you are measured on to the overall business direction and strategy which may isolate staff from the relevance of the business strategy. In order to develop and change cultures, you need to turn the eyes of the crowd, and subsequently the mind-sets, in the direction of the pointy end. It’s difficult to do if they don’t know what they are looking for.
Go forth like Bruce and communicate. Good luck and would love to hear your comments on what communication works well and also what doesn’t.
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Many thanks to my nephew James Westmore for his wonderful artwork and to Rosie Broadfoot for her continued enthusiasm for editing my posts.