Improving employee communication has proven to be one of the most impactful opportunities employers have to engage and empower their people, grow better leaders, and build a more inclusive, productive and innovative work place.
A key success factor for executive leaders and managers is the ability to influence, inspire and unite every person in their organization around a shared purpose. This ability is based on the connection they have with their people. It can be seen in the way teams work together on a daily basis, but it is most evident (or not) when there are problems to solve, obstacles to work through, or changes to make. In each of those instances, it is heavily impacted by the way they communicate with others.
Successful leaders understand that great communication must be a critical focus of their identity as a leader and an essential component of growth and performance strategy. Increasingly, senior leaders are looking to HR to help develop and lead this capability. There are many benefits to structuring corporate communications to report up to the CEO through the CHRO/CPO. Leveraging the right approach, the right insights, and the right technology can make communication a successful endeavor in strategic HR.
Taking on the Challenge of Improving Employee Communication
A compilation of MPI’s client assessment results for the past decade provides valuable insight into the importance of communication from an employee’s view of the workplace. The data span many industries across the U.S., including manufacturing, healthcare, retail, distribution, education and professional services. No surprise, the number one topic of concern for employees is - Communication. Communication in the workplace is complex. It impacts every aspect of a person’s job and has a great influence on their experience at each stage of the employee journey. Communication helps shape employees’ views of their co-workers, their leaders, their customers and their future. Communication impacts the way they do their jobs and how they feel about those jobs. As a consequence, communication (or the lack thereof) can significantly influence results in overall performance, safety, quality, customer service, productivity and growth.
THE MOST IMPORTANT OPPORTUNITIES TO IMPROVE COMMUNICATION ARE NOT ABOUT LOGISTICS – THEY ARE ABOUT HOW LEADERS MAKE PEOPLE FEEL. THE PRIORITY PLACED ON COMMUNICATING WELL SAYS A LOT ABOUT HOW MUCH RESPECT THE LEADERS HAVE FOR THEIR PEOPLE.
We know few organizations that communicate with their employees as well as they should. The logistics of communication for large organizations can seem overwhelming, and efforts to improve communication often start and stop there. The most important things about communication are not about logistics they are about how leaders make people feel. The priority placed on communicating well says a lot about how much respect the leaders have for their people. For example, at a basic level, do leaders respond consistently to emails from rank-and-file employees? Do all of those employees even have corporate email addresses? Do employees receive group communications only, or individual messages from managers reaching out in a more direct and personal way? Good communication demonstrates thoughtfulness on the part of the leader -- which is key to being an inclusive, respectful leader.
Another good example of this is the failure of many managers to reliably provide feedback to employees on their performance and areas for growth. What does it say to an employee when their manager does not take the time to give important feedback? Bluntly - it says to the employee that “you and your job don’t matter.”
Few things are more demoralizing for employees than this area of non-communication. Although corporate communication is complex and there can be many opportunities for improvement, we find that the following areas of frustration are consistently at the top of the list for both frontline managers and employees:
• Capacity – People are overwhelmed with the amount of information received on a daily basis.
For managers, it is made worse by the number of meetings many of them attend. It creates
stress and damages their confidence in their ability to do their jobs well.
• Inconsistency – When employees do not receive consistent messaging or feedback, they feel
confused about goals, are often conflicted regarding priorities and suffer from low morale as a
• Access – When employees say they don’t have access to important information in a timely
manner, they often feel excluded and unappreciated.
• Voice – When managers do not ask for employee input or feedback regarding important
changes or when solving problems on a daily basis, employees feel their opinions are not valued
and that they do not or cannot make a difference.
• Trust- Employees often experience backlash when sharing their opinions and feel they don’t
have a safe environment for suggesting improvements. This makes them feel unsafe and
unprotected and can have a significant negative impact on their relationships with both coworkers and leadership.
• Respect – This area strikes people the deepest and crosses many areas of interaction in the
workplace. It is often the result of a uncollaborative environment and a lack of inclusive
leadership skills. As explained earlier, it is also the primary outcome created when we don’t
make communication a priority.
One of the first steps to improving employee communication is to put a take in the ground and make it an organizational priority, with a leader who reports directly to a member of the C-suite providing oversight and accountability. As mentioned previously, considering the large impact that communication has on employee engagement, performance and experience, building a communications structure that reports to a strategic HR leader can yield very positive results.
Secondly, communication should be everyone’s responsibility. Every member of the team should be held accountable for communicating effectively in their role. This accountability starts with senior leaders who must be the ones to model the right behaviors and expectations around communication. The use of 360 degree feedback is very helpful in assessing someone’s success in communication. Integrated into this accountability is the understanding that communication must reflect action and give employees an understanding of what their managers are actually accomplishing on a daily basis.
The most effective employee communication strategies are built through the eyes of employees. These strategies help create a sense of community, belonging and positive, supporting relationships. They facilitate team building and collaboration.
CONSIDERING THE LARGE IMPACT THAT COMMUNICATION HAS ON EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT, PERFORMANCE AND EXPERIENCE, BUILDING A COMMUNICATIONS STRUCTURE REPORTING TO A STRATEGIC HR LEADER CAN YIELD REAL RESULTS.
They are inclusive. They not only push information out, but pull feedback in. They engage people by making it easy for them to share ideas and resources and celebrate results. The best communication strategies do this through detailed planning of the right combination of audience, content, authorship, message, medium, technology and timing.
If you want solutions that will take your communications to an even higher level, then considering new innovations in communication technology, such as Artificial Intelligence (A.I.), will help you achieve even greater inclusion and insight by enabling your team to:
1. Create high visibility and easy access to critical information,
2. Give each individual the ability to choose their own communication profile and preferences based on their job or on their own interests,
3. Utilize an inclusive model that accommodates multiple audiences and provides access to a responsive, diverse selection of media, language and content based on user preference,
4. Leverage a platform that can integrate both internal and external material across many different sources,
5. Listen. Alright, that probably sounds contradictory – using artificial intelligence to listen. But one of the most powerful multipliers provided by A.I. is in the form of listening:
- Reveals which topics and types of messages are preferred and routinely opened and read by different people and groups,
- Collects and analyzes data and trends at such speed that leadership can be alerted to employee concerns or negative trends as they are happening in real time,
- Drives responsive messages based on an individual’s interests and reinforces positive trends aligned with goals and shared vision.
Clarifying the End in Mind and Getting Started
Imagine a reality where communication is well planned, easy to carry out, fluid and responsive to what you want to share as a leader and what your employees want/need to hear AND say. Imagine looking out at your entire management team and feeling confident that they are great communicators. It is possible to achieve if you follow the right path.
MPI has guided hundreds of organizations in leveraging HR strategy in many different areas (such as communication) to achieve better business results. We provide the expertise, tools, insights and resources they need to build up the capability and capacity of their teams and take the right path forward.
Let’s take your HR strategy to the next level. Ask us about our team’s capabilities. Our Senior Vice President, Maureen Donnellan is available to provide more information and free initial consultations. Call 513.721.6611 or send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.