It starts with you
So how does the way you communicate as a manager impact on the performance of the organisation? And what does employee engagement actually mean for you and the way you lead and manage?
CONGRATULATIONS – YOU’VE GOT THE JOB!
Chances are that, when you became a manager, nobody talked to you about employee engagement. It may not have come up in the interview. It might not even be in your job description. But you are in charge of employee engagement in your part of the organisation. Why? Because your people put you in charge, that's why! Your team see you as their communication channel of choice, especially in times of change. The extent of their engagement depends on you. So congratulations, you've got the job.
FACE UP TO IT
Recent advances in technology have created new and exciting ways to communicate. Doubtless more are on the way. But ask yourself, when the chips are down, when it really matters, how do you want to find out about the really important stuff? Chances are you'll say: “Face-to-face with my boss”. And so would your people if you asked them the same question. So face up to it, when communication really matters, face-to-face still tops the list.
BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE
There's nothing more de-motivating for staff than to see leaders say one thing and do another. The disconnect between words and deeds leads to a loss of respect and trust that is difficult to win back. So role model the organisation's values and behaviours and be the change you want to see elsewhere. Don't wait for others to start doing it first. Your people demand it of you – now.
THE BIG PICTURE
To be understood, seek first to understand. If you want your people to listen to and act on your communication, you'd better know what you're talking about. So actively engage yourself in finding out what the organisation is trying to achieve and your role in achieving it. If you don't understand the big picture yourself, how are you going to explain it to your people and help them understand what they need to do to help?
THINK GLOBAL, TALK LOCAL
One of the biggest complaints from frontline people is that the messages that come from above aren't relevant to them. Your job is to act as interpreter, bridging the gap between the corporate message and “What does this mean for us?” Constantly ask yourself: “How can I bring this message to life in a way that's meaningful to my team?”
OWN THE MESSAGE
We've all got opinions on things. Some things we're asked to communicate we like, some things we don't. You can discuss your concerns with your line manager. But your people need the facts, uncoloured by your views, to draw their own conclusions. So “own” the message. Be a corporate citizen, deliver the key messages with passion, conviction, and empathy for your audience's concerns... not your own.
BE GROWN UP ABOUT IT
Many line managers, and organisations for that matter, have a habit of communicating like a parent talking to a child. People react badly to being spoken down to and don't like it if they think information is being kept from them. So communicate in a way that is open, engaging and responsible.
CUT THROUGH THE NOISE
People in big organisations often complain of information overload. So it's better to make four or five points well, than 25 points badly. Be focused. Ask yourself what will make the biggest impact on whether you achieve your objectives. Devote your effort to getting across the key messages at the outset. The others you can deal with at another time, in bite-size chunks.
BACK TO BASICS
Once you've got your key messages straight, take every opportunity to reiterate them. Remember the old adage for structuring communication: “Tell them what yo'’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them again.” To which you should add: “Ask them what they heard” because the greatest danger facing any communication is the assumption it has been achieved.
MAKE IT TWO-WAY
Effective communication is all about dialogue. “I'm trying to say A.” “Oh, I thought you meant B.” “How will we achieve X?” “Well, maybe we could do Y.” Encourage your team to speak up and challenge. A good communicator will use formal and informal techniques to bring about an atmosphere of trust and openness, like genuine two-way team meetings and regular walking the floor.
ARE YOU LISTENING?
We have two ears and one mouth, so use them in those proportions. As managers, it is tempting to do all the talking and impart information to others, but a good communicator will know when the time is right to stop and listen. Your people will want to know their views are being listened to. Effectively channelled, these views often lead to big performance improvements.
ACT ON FEEDBACK
Always act on feedback. Whether the feedback is in the form of a question or a general comment, don't ignore it. If it's a question and you can't answer it, commit to finding out the answer (or the reason why it can't be answered) and get back to the whole team with the answer, not just the person who asked it. And if themes emerge, feed them back up the line and ensure the appropriate people at head office are kept up to speed too.
GIVE CREDIT WHERE IT’S DUE
If you had invested your own money in a stock or share, you would never knowingly do anything to devalue that investment. Keep this in mind when engaging with your people. Think of them as a share you have invested in, and do everything you can to build their share price, not knock it down. So make someone's day and catch him or her doing something right! Praising people for their efforts and hard work costs nothing and has enormous benefits in terms of employee engagement.
HELP HEAD OFFICE TO HELP YOU
The phrase “I'm from head office, I'm here to help” often causes mild amusement in operational environments. But they really can help. Make sure they understand your issues, and help them help you. The better informed that head office teams are, the better and more meaningful the support you'll receive. After all we all work for the same organisation.
MAKE A CONTRIBUTION
People like to see their bit of the organisation getting a share of the limelight in employee communications, so share your news and success stories with the rest of the organisation. Don't let people complain that there's never anything said about your area – you're half the problem if that's the case!
SPREAD THE LOAD
You're busy, so spread the load. Why not ask a direct report to organise and lead a team briefing? After all there is no better way to understand a key message than to learn it in order to deliver it. But if you do this, the golden rule is to not see this as an opportunity to opt out of engaging directly with your own staff – you must still be involved.
WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH
During busy times it can be tempting to stop communicating with your team to save time. Some managers even become invisible to their people. The opposite should be true. When the going gets tough, you should be more visible, stepping up communication and engagement activity to help the team meet the challenges you face together – keep your door open, eat in the canteen, walk the floor and ask people how they're doing.
You don't have to be the world's best presenter or writer, but the core skills of communicating should be in your toolkit. So, be on the look-out for techniques that work, and notice the ones that don't, and use this to create your own personal style. But remember, communicators are always at their most powerful when they are being themselves. Your people will spot when you aren't being genuine.
University of Portsmouth Staff Communications Policy
What every manager should know about communication, by Bill Quirke and Dominic Walters
Direct and indirect effects of supervisor communication on organizational commitment, Mark van Vuuren, Menno D.T. de Jong, Erwin R. Seydel