Conscious Communication is a Leadership Responsibility

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Whenever I take a road trip as an adult I’m reminded of my childhood when my family took long car trips. At regular intervals we’d ask, or sometimes whine, “Are we THERE yet??” Not unlike antsy backseat passengers, your employees have a continued interest in where your business is in relation to its journey (i.e. its direction and goals.) They have a good reason to because the status of how the business is doing in the big scheme of things directly impacts the work they do. Information and how effectively it is communicated through an organization has a direct correlation to employee productivity and engagement. That said, I’ve found that many leaders spend little time planning what information they will communicate to their employees. The simple truth is: Your employees want regular and relevant communication from you.

Employees need – and expect – specific types of communication at regular intervals.

From leaders, employees want to know and understand the ultimate goal. They need to hear the vision, the business strategy — broad direction with milestones and appreciation. Those sound like “We are still going in this direction…” and “Here is how we are doing in relation to our strategy…” and “Thank you all for helping us get to where we are.” Then, when the business needs to course correct – which it will – leaders need to let employees know that things will be changing. “We are going to change our direction and here is why…and how it affects what we’ve previously communicated.” 

From direct managers, employees need to hear more granular information from what leaders provide. The information managers need to communicate is more specific to department activities and individuals’ job tasks. Employees expect ongoing dialogue with their manager because they want to do good work. They want to course correct as they go because they don’t want to have to redo their work – which wastes time and resources. They regularly need a chance to get clarification about their work and progress against goals, expectations of behaviors they exhibit, consequences, as well as, recognition and appreciation.

Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.

Rollo May

If you think about it, we condition people early in life to receive regular report cards when they’re in school; yet, when they get into the workforce, managers don’t effectively apply that concept. Part of a manager’s responsibility is effectively providing feedback, like a report card, to their employees on an ongoing basis. It’s part of managing performance. While the term ‘feedback’ typically gets a negative connotation, if managers are transparent in their communication – authentically share the positive and negative behaviors and outcomes they observe on a regular basis – it becomes a behavioral norm and part of organizational culture. Remember, employees expect it. People don’t come to work to suck at their jobs nor do they want their manager to think they do (suck) and not tell them directly and/or give them a chance to address the feedback and share their perspective. From this two-way dialogue, managers and employees are in a better position to gain each other’s trust and respect.

Regular organizational communication is important to business and human performance regardless of which levels of management it comes from. 

If leaders don’t communicate frequently enough, employees fill in the gaps between what was last said and what they think is going on. It’s human nature. People will make up information in the absence of real data – which often creates a culture of uneasiness, worry, gossip and overall unnecessary drama. Having made up and/or misinformation circulating is never in an organizations best interest from a employee morale standpoint. If you are a leader and you aren’t sure of how often your employees need to hear from them – ASK THEM. Don’t assume you know. 

All communication is a key organizational “system” that is as important as IT infrastructure and other business systems.

Think about the information you communicate as the leader of your organization as one of the most important tools your employees need in order to accomplish their jobs effectively. It’s truly that impactful on your business and by realizing that – you’ll spend more time on it and make it a priority. And, if you do make it a priority, you’ll see a positive return in the areas of employee productivity and organizational effectiveness.

Relevant communication is about providing audience focused information. That means  what’s important to THEM – not what’s important to you necessarily.

If you hold company meetings and regularly talk about stock value or bonus calculations and a majority of your workforce don’t own stock options, or if the bonuses they receive can barely pay for a tank of gas, consider communicating that information to a smaller subset of employees to whom it’s relevant. I’ve seen this happen too many times. While leaders think they are sharing “positive news” when the stock price is up or pending bonuses are significant, all the employees heard were executives ‘bragging about money they’re going to get’ and they leave feeling angry and unmotivated. 

Understanding that your communication should consider the audience and what information is relevant to them, is paramount to your success. If you aren’t exactly sure of what kind of information your employees consider “relevant” and what they need to hear from you – ASK THEM. 

And my final thought…when you hold a company meeting and the status of strategic projects has not changed, say so – because it’s the truth. The truth works – that’s transparency. If you can only tell part of something to the team due to confidentiality, tell them as much as you CAN say. If you’ve got no new information to share about topics you regularly cover in that meeting, you can always spend time saying “THANK YOU” and recognizing your hardworking people for their contributions. People Matter in Business.  

Cindy Goyette, CC, SPHR, MA – Maximizing Human Capital, Inc. 2018

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