Monday December 19, 2011
This article originally featured in Caterer and Hotelkeeper.
In the final part of a series of extracts from Learnpurple's book, Purple your People, the author and company CEO Jane Sunley explains why communication is so vital to employee engagement and becoming a great place to work
We could have written a whole book on communication (and may actually do so...) and still have more to say on the subject. Instead we condensed this into the key areas; even then it's still the longest chapter of Purple your People.
According to Wikipedia, communication is the activity of conveying meaningful information. Sounds simple doesn't it? Yet in our experience, most employee opinion surveys would have communication ranked as one of the top areas for improvement. Why? Because very few organisations know how to get it right, and keep it right.
If you asked any employee how they'd rate internal communication in their organisation, on a scale of one to 10 (with 10 being brilliant) you'd be lucky to raise a five. People want to be involved and consulted, not just on the receiving end of "telling"; and this is where organisations are falling short. With new generations entering the workforce; having a voice and being heard are becoming more and more important. People now want to be able to influence what's going on around them and have a say; adult-to-adult relationships which work on a basis of ongoing, two-way communication.
Getting communication right is not difficult; it does though take time and effort and is always a work in progress. This is why so many businesses are put off investing in it. However, getting it right can have a considerable influence on motivation, engagement, performance, productivity and, of course, the bottom line.
For too many years organisations have been able to get away with poor levels of internal communication. In the past, employees were happy to keep their heads down and focus on their work. Now, as generation X and Y filter through businesses, having a voice which can influence both personal progress and the work environment is fast becoming expected and a key requirement for staying.
Employees also need to have the information to enable them to deliver an excellent job, remain inspired and understand how they are doing. This is all fair enough, but with everything moving so much faster than even five years ago and the challenges of daily business life increasing, for many it seems impossible to keep everyone up to speed with what's going on.
Our big picture take on this is for managers and leaders to stop making the decisions that influence people's lives in secret and start valuing and trusting their teams enough to keep them openly in the picture. So instead of sitting behind closed doors in the boardroom deciding stuff, then doing some telling and expecting information to cascade downwards (through that often murky middle-management layer), we believe it's better for leaders to consult and involve people from the bottom-up. This way they will always know what's going on and will be much more likely to buy into the decisions being made. And it's often the people who are doing the "doing" who have the best ideas - ideas that can boost sales and the bottom line or save you lots of money. So why would you not access this valuable "free" resource?
As fewer people aspire to hold management and leadership positions, it's going to become more important to enable the workforce to become more self-managing with better decision-making skills and authority. At Learnpurple we call this "freedom within a framework" and it works like this:
1. Make sure the big picture goals and strategy are clear to all
2. Decide the non-negotiables
3. Make sure your values are firmly embedded and part of daily life - they are your police force
4. Leaders must "walk the talk"
5. Ensure people are clear on roles, responsibilities, targets and metrics
6. Measure outputs instead of inputs
7. Define resources and budgets
8. Decide how the consultation process will work and what sort of things require formal sign-off
9. Make sure support is always available and people know how to access it
10. Be prepared to accept change, different approaches and new ways of thinking
Employees want good, clear communication and to be kept in the loop - especially when it comes to decisions which will impact their role, teams and even families. The only way to fulfil this desire is through effective communication which comes from clear planning. It's an age old cliché - fail to plan and you plan to fail. You can make planning simple by thinking things through into "virtual bullet points". To get you on your way we'd recommend you consider the following at the very least:
Think about your audience. Whether spoken, written or otherwise, communications have to be crafted with the recipient in mind. Use language they'll "get" and think about how best to "sell" what you're saying, asking or consulting on. Use examples and stories to make it real. Think also about who's the best person to do the communicating. How can the message be delivered consistently and to all who need to know it?
What is the best method to communicate the message? Is it through e‑mail or would it perhaps be better received at the morning team brief. Formal or not, clarity is key - so consider what you actually want to happen as a result of the communication and what it is you really want to say.
Timing of communications is critical so pick and choose the times to send out messages. Allow adequate time to deliver and receive a response and if you need to move fast, particularly when the message may be difficult to deliver, do it.
You should know what you want the result to be from the communication and put in place a way of measuring so next steps and follow-up can easily be actioned. How it will be measured should also be clearly communicated enabling people to know they're "there". And when seeking opinion, make sure feedback is listened to and acted upon - there is nothing more disheartening and disengaging than an individual taking time to offer their honest opinion only for it to be ignored.
Time to act
The time has come for organisations to up their game with communications. Businesses do not employ children, they employ grown-ups who have mortgages, relationships, children and out-of-work responsibilities, activities and talents like you wouldn't believe. So trust, respect, consult, listen, learn and be amazed.