In Part One of this series (appearing in the December 2017 Bulletin), we discussed the fact that creating a great workplace is important to organizational success. There are three components of creating a workplace where people want to do their best work and they center on the people, the communication, and the leadership within the organization. Today, we will look at communication.
It’s about Great Communication!
Companies routinely conduct pulse or opinion surveys of their employees to gather information on a variety of workplace-related topics. Invariably, one of the topics surveyed is communication. Questions tend to be some variation of “do our communications keep you informed,” “do you have suggestions for how we can communicate better,” and similar items. It is rare that an organization receives feedback that says, “We are getting all the communication that we need! Thank you!” Quite to the contrary, surveys almost always indicate that employees feel there is not enough information shared, the right information isn’t shared when it should be shared, and communication does not happen with an acceptable degree of frequency. Often, what employees are asking for is consistent, timely communication that is meaningful, and that inspires them personally and professionally.
Employees in today’s workforce prefer to expend their time and energy on the job doing work that matters. Millennials, in particular, are reputed to be driven not by money, but by a sense of purpose. It is important that they are connected to something bigger than themselves in order to feel fulfilled by their work. While Millennials make up 38 percent of the workforce, they do not corner the market in terms of a desire for fulfillment. The Gallup Organization identified 12 factors that correlate significantly to employee engagement, commonly referred to as the “Q12.” One of those items is that the mission or purpose of the company makes the employee feel their job is important. Great workplaces provide communication that helps employees feel connected to the organization’s mission and goals by keeping these things in the front of the mind. These organizations also focus on ensuring that employees have a line-of-sight from their role to organizational objectives and that their work is aligned with the organization’s purpose or reason that the company exists.
When communicating purpose, it is important to make sure that employees see the mission ahead as challenging, but achievable. It should be presented in such a way as to motivate and excite rather than alarm and defeat employees. A clearly communicated purpose will provide employees with direction and inspiration while allowing them flexibility and freedom in its pursuit. It provides employees with enough information that they are clear about the basis for decision-making when confronted with new situations.
Communicate Openly and Consistently
In determining “what” and “how” to communicate important information to employees, management typically starts with the question, “What do we want employees to know?” This question may be based on a traditional or paternalistic view of the employer-employee relationship. This view reflects a culture where management is dominant and seeks to exercise control. It is represented by the axiom, “We just need employees to do their jobs, management will do the thinking.” An alternative question could be, “What information will help employees understand the big picture and make the best decisions for the organization?”
So, how much information should management share with employees? In addition to providing information about vision, mission, and goals, share as much as you can. With the exception of human resources and legal issues, most other things can probably be shared with workers. Great workplaces share feedback from customers, information from management meetings, staffing projections, and hiring plans. Even detailed information regarding the organization’s financial performance might be shared. This level of transparency works to build trust between employees and management while helping management create a team that truly understands how the business works. It provides opportunities for everyone to face the company’s challenges and enjoy its successes together.
Feedback is a Two-Way Street
Feedback is usually thought of as comments provided after the fact wherein management tells employees how they are doing, which is actually only one component of feedback. The other is managers collecting information from employees regarding how they, and the company, are doing in meeting the employees’ needs.
Employees in organizations with honest and open communication feel that they have a stake in the success of the company and feel empowered to provide their insights. Even when managers have an open door policy, it is more beneficial to be proactive in seeking honest feedback from employees in informal ways. Regular check-ins, informal lunches, and “stay interviews” are just a few ways to elicit feedback. Take this time to ask simple open-ended questions that allow the employees to elaborate on their thoughts. For example, “What are you hearing our clients say about our business?” “What part of your job do you find most meaningful?” “What is holding you back from doing your absolute best work?”
Finally, it’s not enough to just solicit the feedback. Be prepared to do something with it. Asking employees for input and insight and then ignoring what they have shared undermines morale. Follow up with employees to let them know what has happened with their suggestions, concerns, and complaints. Even if you can’t do what they’ve asked, it means a lot to employees to know that you made an effort to address their concerns and questions.
Those companies that are able to create a climate of open communication across all levels see higher levels of employee engagement.
In Part 3 we will look at the role leadership plays in employee engagement and the success of an organization.