Fully informed employees make a huge difference in your company’s performance. They are your competitive edge. Engage them as a vital part of the team, using every tool at your disposal to communicate what’s working and what can be improved.
This is especially true during challenging times that test the organization. The more managers and employees know, the better they can respond to customers and confront competitor challenges. Frequent and straightforward communication — whether through e-mail, town hall meetings, or face-to-face meetings – will help you attract and retain the right people.
Informed Employees Make a Difference
In over four decades of managing at different levels, I have seen managers who (for whatever reason) don’t inform their employees about what’s going on in the company or industry. They fail to tell them what’s expected of them, how they are doing, and so on. I have witnessed this mindset in managers at all levels, including the owner, founder, and chief executive.
They are missing a huge opportunity.
In virtually all businesses, it is people who do the work. They serve customers, assemble products, work with vendors, collaborate with one another, establish pricing, and make strategic decisions. The extent to which they do these things well determines the outcome for the business. This is not a mystery.
Most people don’t come to work every day intending to sabotage the success of the business. Their own financial future is at stake, not to mention their pride or ambition. It is infinitely sensible, then, that the more these employees and managers know about the headwinds or tailwinds they face, the better they will be able to navigate their daily decisions toward the accomplishment of the company’s strategic goals.
It should also make sense that, in the absence of factual information, people act and react on the basis of partial or assumed truths. This may produce the wrong decisions or actions, or at the very least create unneeded distractions. Leaders must be effective communicators.
Use Every Communication Tool Available
I have heard all the reasons why public companies should be careful about what they say regarding the company and its future. I get it. But it doesn’t mean you should not talk candidly and factually with your own team.
Now, it is important to remember that whatever you say or write is public information. Don’t have the mindset that what you communicate to your managers or employees is “just between us.” It isn’t. Anything you communicate internally could be made public, so write it or say it with that thought in mind.
There are so many communications tools to consider, but I believe that the two most powerful tools are personal and written communications. These two tools are relatively easy for anyone to implement, although execution and technique can always be improved.
Every employee should receive a written update from their leader’s view about what is going on at least once each month, or more frequently when there is more to say. If you are the chief executive, this can be a written memo. If you are a line manager, you may have weekly staff meetings and don’t need to use written communications. If you have a company intranet, use it to communicate in written form. Try using video if available, as it communicates your tone more clearly and leaves less room for misinterpretation.
If you want to ensure that your communications are relevant, get out of your office and listen to employees. Town hall meetings, “brown bag” lunch meetings, department visits, and new employee orientation meetings can all help you build trust and make all of your communications more interesting and useful.
Don’t forget about company advertising, or what is on your website or intranet. These messages impact employees as well as customers, so these messages should be consistent with your values and the type of company you want to create. They can also be used to reinforce your vision and commitment to the people you serve. Your team will notice if the internal and external communications don’t line up.
If You Want to be Heard, Build Trust
Doing what you say you are going to do — “walking the talk” — is critical if you want to be heard more than once. The more that employees come to see how the company lives up to its vision and follows its strategic direction, the more your directions will be heard and followed.
Be honest and straightforward in all communications. Don’t use acronyms and insider slang. Communicate simply so everyone understands completely. Share both sides of the coin: both positive and negative insights, good and bad news, what is working and what is not. Remember to also tell people what is being done about challenges or opportunities, and how the employees can contribute.
Leaders must learn to communicate honestly, effectively, and consistently. It can take practice, but it is important to build the necessary skills. You’ll see performance and team spirit improve as your people understand where the company is going and how they will get there.
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