Five Ways to Communicate Better with your Employees

Chester Elton

Charlie Chaplain, Peter Sellers, Rowan Atkinson. Throughout movie history some actors have been able to hold an audience’s attention without even saying a word.

Likewise as managers, we are constantly sending messages—often without speaking. We communicate by the things we do, the things we don’t do, through our facial expressions, and through our body language. As bosses we send messages all the time, and yet why do so many of our employees feel they’re not receiving adequate communication at work?

Take this data: A survey by Right Management Consultants of employees in 336 organizations revealed that only 30 percent of employees understand their company’s business strategy. That means seven out of every ten people who work for you have little idea of what your organization’s primary goals are. That lack of communication has a direct impact on employee commitment and trust. When we feel left out of the loop, we feel disengaged. It’s that simple.

So what to do?

Bill George, former chairman and CEO of Medtronic (and coincidentally the keynote speaker in our upcoming annual Carrot summit), explains that communication should take precedence over everything else in business. Said Bill, “Leaders don’t pay enough attention to their people. They do so at their peril, because their employees interpret and respond accordingly—in a compliant fashion rather than with their best work.”

That makes perfect sense. When we fail to communicate, employees are left with little understanding of what we can accomplish together. And when employees can’t share in the potential of your team or organization, they achieve only enough to make it through the day. Basically, marginal communication performances by a manager equates to marginal employee performances.

In our research we’ve seen that many managers buy into a dangerous myth: the fear that communicating more effectively will take too much of their already limited time. But, again, if you don’t find time to perform your job, your employees won’t use their time to perform at their full potential.

The truth of the matter is this: keeping the team up to speed with proper communication doesn’t have to take long. Mary Corr, a manager of corporate revenue integrity (isn’t that a great title) at Orlando Health, one of Florida’s most comprehensive private, not-for-profit healthcare networks, shared with us how she guides her team in communicating their goals. She said:

    We take 15 minutes of our staff meeting to discuss behaviors we want to change and how we are going to do it. We outline areas of opportunity then detail the small steps we need to take to improve and present ourselves in a positive manner. This has proven to be a successful approach to strengthening our team.

In just fifteen minutes a week, Mary has created an open forum to solve problems and focus on improvements. Opening up communication literally opens the door to success for you, your employees, and your company.

So, what are the gold standards of iconic communicators in business? The best managers:

  • Set clear guiding values and goals. By clarifying your core strategies and principles you as a manager can better guide the conversations because everyone knows what they’re working toward.
  • Discuss issues facing the company and the team. By updating your people on the big and small issues facing your team or company in daily huddles, you give people the opportunity to be “invested” in organizational priorities. The more they know, the more likely they are to provide suggestions or focus on solutions in their daily work.
  • Respond promptly to team member requests for more information. By respectfully answering questions, you strengthen your trust with each team member.
  • Tell the stories of employee accomplishment to key individuals in the organization. Storytelling (bragging on your people) is one of the most effective ways of communicating your trust in your employees.

Recognize, recognize, recognize. There are few communication activities more powerful than gathering your team to appreciate the great work of an employee. As an exclamation point, end the gathering with a team cheer.

As a manager, you own the spotlight. If your words, actions and interactions don’t properly share the messages you want communicated, your audience won’t know how to respond. Like an actor on the big screen, your team is looking for you to tell the story, to guide them to the next big scene, and to lead them to the performance of a lifetime.

A Carrot A Day: Focus on the Positive

At the end of each day, write down three things that went right. Get in the habit of looking for the positives around you and it will pay dividends in the office. It will provide you with talking points as you greet your employees the next day and allow you to begin and end each day focusing on what went well in a recognition moment. And since you can’t be everywhere at once, take it a step further by giving your people a stack of thank-you cards. Ask your team to communicate their praise and recognition to coworkers when they see them furthering company values.

Chestor Elton, co-author of The Carrot Principle.
Adrian Gostick, co-author of The Carrot Pricinciple.
Copyright 2010. Author retains ownership. All Rights Reserved.

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