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Establish Two-Way Communication with Employees

Communication to employees starts at the top, with the CEO, president, or other appropriate executive. But in order for clear communication to become part of your corporate culture — and make no mistake, this is absolutely critical for engagement to take hold — there must be a process by which the message is cascaded down and reinforced by every level of management.

The goal is to align what the CEO or other executives say with what line managers tell their direct reports. This takes time, repetition, and leveraging of available communication options.

In a cascade communications strategy (sometimes known as a waterfall communications strategy), the buck stops (or, more precisely, the message starts) with upper management. But the responsibility for communication is shared across every level, from the region to the district to the office to the line manager.

No one individual, committee, or department should be placed in charge of disseminating information throughout the company (although there are many professionals who are highly skilled at greasing the gears of communication and finding creative ways to broadcast and publicize individual messages). The key is to make every leader a message ambassador, and every management level responsible for informing the next.

Eventually, this will happen as effortlessly as water pouring over a waterfall. But it will require some initial effort on your part, and ongoing vigilance. Keep these points in mind:

  • Identify your communications ambassadors. Your initial recruits will be employees with management responsibility, and their duties will include transmitting company messages. Let them know that their performance in this arena will be evaluated — and follow up on that promise.

  • Enlist other engaged employees. Provide a forum for their input and give them well-defined communications tasks within their peer groups (and beyond, if appropriate).

  • Supply direct channels and appropriate tools. Every important message from the top should be accompanied, at minimum, by general talking points for managers at all levels, an (anticipated) FAQ, and a means by which unanticipated questions will be answered and publicized.

  • Scale your tools to fit the task at hand. If a large-scale announcement or rollout needs to be communicated, look closely at the available vehicles and explore new options if necessary. Engage your communications ambassadors to find the most appropriate communication methods for your staff. And don't overlook the need to customize your communication approach depending on the audience. Your Gen Y staff members require a very different communication approach than your Boomers.

If you're worried that communication will add to the workload of already-harried line managers, the answer is to communicate effectively with them. Equip them with the information and tools they need to be effective message ambassadors, and let them know precisely what is expected: alignment with, and wide and frequent distribution of, the top-line message.

The bottom line? According to recent research by Dale Carnegie Training, employees are more highly engaged when their immediate manager communicates openly with them, recognizes their contribution, and gives feedback and encouragement that enhance their job performance.

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