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Leader Communication Could Be Better

Experts say leaders need to step up their communication efforts to fill information gaps that exist in some workplaces. Reframing the importance of communication can help.

“The most common cause of poor leader communication is that leaders don’t take communication nearly as seriously as they take other business disciplines,” according to Helio Fred Garcia, author of The Power of Communication: Skills to Build Trust, Inspire Loyalty, and Lead Effectively (FT Press, 2012) and adjunct professor of management at NYU’s Stern School of Business. Many “have an exaggerated sense of their own communication ability,” he wrote in an e-mail interview with SHRM Online.

That’s one possible reason why more than a third (36 percent) of senior managers, executives and employees say employees “hardly ever” know what’s going on in their organizations.

Just 9 percent of respondents surveyed in March 2012 by AMA Enterprise, a division of the American Management Association (AMA), said employees know what’s going on “most of the time.” The majority (55 percent) said employees are informed “some of the time.” The 289 survey respondents were drawn from the AMA database.

“Too often, employees do not feel trusted or involved in any way in decision-making,” said Sandi Edwards, senior vice president for AMA Enterprise, in a media statement—especially when it comes to an organization’s business strategy or plans for the future. A better approach, Edwards suggested, is to ensure that everyone in an organization knows the role they have in making their company successful.

Effective Communication Requires Multiple Messages

“If we are to move people we need to meet them where they are,” Garcia wrote in an e-mail interview with SHRM Online. “This means understanding that employees expect to receive information in many forms, through many channels [and] from many sources.”

The most effective companies reinforce key messages across multiple platforms, he explained, such as e-mail, meetings, intranet and voice mail, and ensure that the same message “cascades” down through the leadership so employees hear consistent messages from many levels of the organization.

“At any given time, some employees won’t see or hear a given message, so repetition is important,” Garcia wrote.

Repetitive messages don’t need to be boring, he noted. Even if the core message doesn’t change, each communication can be enhanced by a recent example or anecdote to keep the information fresh, he explained.

“Effectively leveraging social media can be a great way to stay connected with employees and create a more collaborative work environment,” according to Giselle Kovary, managing partner of n-gen People Performance Inc. and co-author of Upgrade Now: 9 Advanced Leadership Skills (n-gen People Performance Inc., 2012). “Creating a team LinkedIn group or internal Facebook type page can be an easy and efficient way to communicate to the entire team and provide quick status updates that are relevant and timely,” she wrote SHRM Online in an e-mail interview.

Tips for Improving Employee Communication

To increase the level of connection with employees, Garcia suggested that leaders:

  • Understand what matters to employees, such as their fears, concerns, hopes and expectations.
  • Take those concerns seriously and be sure communications address what matters most to employees.
  • Avoid the use of jargon.
  • Frame the company’s priorities in ways that employees understand and can rally around.
  • Remind employees regularly about company priorities.
  • Establish a feedback loop to be sure employees understand what leaders are saying.

Kovary suggested that leaders:

  • Refrain from changing the message multiple times. Content should remain consistent, she wrote.
  • Make sure employees understand the “why.” Communicate the appropriate background information and context.
  • Send a key message more than once. Use repetition with multiple mediums to increase understanding and acceptance.
  • “Communicate broadly and ensure full coverage by casting a wide net,” rather than assuming that a few select employees will pass a message along.
  • Avoid confusing language and jargon. “Use clear and concise language to ensure messages are accurately interpreted and understood,” she wrote.

Kovary added that leaders should manage employees’ expectations about internal communications: “By setting expectations as to how (which medium will be used), when (times, speed of response) and to whom (individual or team) communication will be provided, employees will know what to expect and how to appropriately manage communication with their manager during busy times.”

Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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