Encouraging Employee Communication

By Linda Keefe

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Communication between managers and employees is an important issue in any organization. Employees want guidelines from their supervisors, and the management wants input from the entire team. Most companies have little trouble communicating downward, but getting information to flow upward is more of a challenge. When employees stay quiet about what they need, the negative results can include missed opportunities, delayed projects, and failed initiatives.

The reasons for such a communication gap include employees that think, “I don’t want to appear incompetent,” and “Who am I to offer ideas to management?” Additionally, because they know that the management team is busy with long-term planning and strategic initiatives, many employees don’t want to interrupt with details of day-to-day activities. Without that knowledge, however, managers have a difficult time gauging whether they’re leading the company effectively.

The key to getting employees to communicate better and to keeping the company’s progress on track is to build a quality interaction between the employee group and the management team. Breaking through the barriers and getting employees and managers working together helps everyone advance a strategic vision and attain goals. This process includes four elements.

Communicate needs. Communication is a two-way process. Employees have as much responsibility as the management team for speaking up, setting expectations and requirements, and communicating barriers and opportunities. Encouraging employees to communicate with the senior team helps each group understand the other’s duties and what can be done given the budget and expectations.

Ask employees to proactively tell the management team what they are struggling with and how managers can help. Reinforce the company’s vision and state how current objectives contribute to it, then explain that the employees’ input is needed to make attaining the vision a reality.

Share skills and knowledge. While most people are knowledgeable about and skilled in their own job duties, many managers are unaware of their employees’ daily activities. Ask employees to explain what goes into each project by listing the activities, costs, and time spent on each. This dialogue can include reviewing survey results, client satisfaction ratings, safety metrics, or other factual data. Questions can spur employees to offer suggestions. Discussing “what if” scenarios based on suggestions offered enables employees to see their impact on the bottom line and will prompt employees to participate in the process.

Create a motivation cycle. Management input plays a large part in motivating employees to communicate about and work toward goals. To make communicating with management easier, arrange a group conference call so employees can share their ideas about a particular project or strategic plan. Set aside a half day to conduct roundtable discussions with employees that address their concerns. Offer short one-on-one sessions between managers and employees to discuss employee issues.

Establish empowerment expectations. An effective work team must document its common understanding. Like Ken Blanchard’s One Minute Manager, write a one-minute goal and its requirements in 400 words or less. Discuss the goals and parameters with everyone involved before assigning tasks so that the entire team recognizes and makes any tradeoffs needed to ensure success.

Linda Keefe is CEO and co-founder of Shared Results International, a consulting and training firm (www.sharedresults.com).





















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