Tips for Communication to and from Employees
There are several ways to engage employees in two-way communication. In addition to communication waterfalls, for top-down communication, you also need communication fountains — that is, vehicles to propel communication from the bottom up. For engagement to truly take hold, employees must feel comfortable communicating upward.
Two types of companywide communication
Generally, this type of communication will come in one of two forms:
Questions: Managers at all levels must answer questions in such a way that the overarching message is reinforced. If the answer is beyond a manager's knowledge, he must push the question to the next level while assuring the questioner that an answer is forthcoming. (Of course, it's important to deliver on this promise. The responsibility lies with the manager who has posed the question to his superiors.)
Feedback: Whether it's positive or negative, managers must be provided a means by which to funnel employee input to the people responsible for processing and, if warranted, incorporating it.
Employee engagement surveys, conducted biannually, with a pulse survey in the alternative years, are one mechanism to ensure that this happens. Communicating those results back is the way to complete the loop. Companies that establish a continuous feedback loop between themselves and their employees virtually guarantee alignment.
Communication cannot be one way, and calls for feedback must be genuine. A company where employees feel comfortable participating in a dialogue with anyone, anytime, however senior, is a company well on its way to an engaged culture. If individuals are afraid to approach higher-ups with questions or feedback, or if they sense that their questions and feedback are not being addressed at the appropriate level, engagement will suffer.
Moreover, having good feedback mechanisms in place is the only way to ensure that any engagement initiatives you've undertaken are the right ones, are progressing, and are embraced and supported by management and staff.
Implementing innovation boxes
Here’s one great idea that, by itself, will make your time spent on employee engagement worthwhile: Eliminate suggestion boxes. See, suggestion boxes often lead to complaints. In other words, people don’t use them to suggest ways to improve your business; instead, they use them to carp about receiving too many e-mails, criticize the cafeteria fare, or grumble about having too many layers of management.
Instead, provide innovation boxes. You’ll quickly find that instead of receiving complaints, you’ll wind up with innovative ideas and suggestions for improving processes.
To close the loop, assemble a cross-sectional group of junior-level to midlevel employees to evaluate ideas from the innovation box (have them use the idea priority matrix discussed in Chapter 2) and send the best ones up the ladder.
Assuming the organization’s leadership actually listens to these ideas and implements them when possible, this can be a great engagement driver! And in time, membership on the committee will be seen as a great honor.
A word on charisma in communication
Of course, some people are just naturally better at communicating than others. For every charismatic Steve Jobs at the helm, there may be ten more introverted Bill Gateses. This is not to say that charisma is the be-all and end-all of great leadership. Indeed, there are plenty of examples in every field — even politics — where quiet brilliance and a keen business sense has served better than any amount of charm or eloquence.
Still, in successful enterprises of all sizes, more often than not, leaders who know communication is not their strong suit still find ways to leverage their talent to disseminate big messages at all levels.
Smart leaders know that what they themselves may not be able to articulate in the most compelling way can gain power as it filters through the ranks of the passionate.
All that being said, while certain people are better communicators than others, this does not diminish anyone’s responsibility to communicate. Those for whom consistent, frequent, and genuine communication do not come easily must be given the tools to succeed — and held accountable regardless of their personal preferences or comfort zones.