Wednesday September 11, 2013
Communication is the longest chapter in our book and topic of discussion at many of our events for a very good reason. In most employee survey results it’s the one area that comes up time and time again for things an employer can improve. This is no surprise when it’s the top motivator for people in service industries, with employees not only wanting to know what is happening in their organisation but also expecting to have two-way, adult-to-adult conversations which provide the opportunity to influence change within the business and their roles. It’s a catch all area that is constantly evolving, with more and more channels to communicate opening thanks to the boom in online mediums. As a result it can impact on all aspects of the business; with those companies that demonstrate great communication witnessing increased levels of engaged people, improved performance and higher profit margins than those that don’t.
So, how do you keep your people up to speed with what is going on and how do you seek their thoughts?
If you only do three things:
1. Encourage and expect everyone to be responsible for communicatingYou don’t employ children, you employ adults. So trust, respect, consult and listen to them and be amazed by the insight they can offer – the people at the sharp end usually know best so be it by consultation, forums, an online community or employee survey, ask. We believe it’s better to consult and involve people in business decisions and give them responsibility from the outset; you’ll gain buy in, they’ll feel involved in what is going on, more engaged, likely to put in extra effort and ultimately you’ll be a more successful and profitable business.
2. Think before you communicateWatch what you say, always. In his HBR blog D.R Conant looks at seven memorable ‘touchpoints’ that have made a profound effect on his life. These ‘touchpoints’ were a few words from an influential or respected person. For example his first CEO saying ‘give it all you’ve got’ or a respected family member offering congratulations - ‘I’m so proud of you’. The words, spoken at that time, by that person, made a real difference to the way Conant went on to live his life. The same can be said of leaders; walk the talk, at all times. People will listen to what you say because of your position, so think about what you are saying, how you are delivering it and maintain a constant state of excellence for your people to emulate.
3. Create ‘freedom within a framework’As fewer people aspire to hold management and leadership positions, it’s increasingly important for people to self-manage and have great decision making skills and authority. Many successful organisations operate a flat structure, giving all people, within reason the freedom to control what they do. In organisations like this communication is paramount. Speaking in 2010, Stephen Sadove, CEO of Saks Inc shared his view of increased communication by keeping a flat structure: “I found so many examples where people were working in silos. To me it was just obvious that if people worked together you would get a better result than if you were working independently. The first 10 years of my career I found that getting people to think differently, and moving from what I call a vertical organization to a horizontal organization, was transformational.” Technical start-ups are famous for using this kind of structure to encourage communication, collaboration and agility, as Dave Kashen writes in his blog for GIGaom: "While most of us focus our attention on the technology and product innovation coming out of Silicon Valley, one of the most significant innovations of our time will come not from digital technology, but from the development of new ways of organizing ourselves to work together."
Above all, however you decide to improve communication, it’s about making it right for the people in your business. So next time a survey comes back citing 'communication' as one of the things that needs to be improved, task your people with finding out what that means and bringing the solution to you.