Do you feel that sometimes you have a failure to communicate? That line from Cool Hand Luke sums up one of the big problem—our communication does not work. I recently met with the leaders of one of my Westchester County New York organizations to present results of an employee survey. The staff felt that there were a lot of changes, but the staff also felt that management was not keeping them informed. Productivity almost always suffers in times of great change because employee stress dramatically increases due to the universal fear of the unknown. Often senior executives genuinely believe they are communicating with employees when it comes to matters that affect them. Unfortunately, they often underestimate the number of matters that includes.
Can you say with certainty that you know what is important to employees and what to tell them? The only way to know is to put yourself in their shoes and see thing from their position and mindset. Think to yourself, “If I were hearing this information what would I be worried about right now in the current situation?” If you were that employee what would be important for you to know? What is the worst thing that could happen, and would you want to know about it in advance? How would you want to be told?
How would you be answering these questions? You can’t answer the questions without the input from your staff—the people affected by the changes. Depending on how much you can discuss, or how much is already known, you might ask a few individuals what the grapevine is saying, and what people are worrying and wondering about.
Now, armed with this information, draft the answers to the questions. Of course they must be truthful answers, for insincerity is easily recognized and will deal a deathblow to your communication efforts. Then they must be couched in terms that are clear and uncompromising, but also considerate and compassionate. It's worth spending some time on this part. Lack of commitment to your message is also easily read and will automatically raise the cynicism level among employees.
You should carefully consider the media used to communicate your message. The way a person receives news can dramatically affect how he or she feels about it, so you need to choose the medium very carefully. E-mail can be perceived as cold and unfeeling in many cases, although it is useful for routine updates that don't have emotional overtones. Some messages are better spoken, either by managers to their groups or by the CEO to the whole organization.
If the messengers don't have highly developed communication skills, it's worth engaging services of people can coach them in the tools of two way communication. The message must remain honest, clear, and compassionate.
And above all, follow through on your commitments and promises. Nothing turns employees off more than empty words. Sincere, caring, ongoing communication can form the basis for building employee engagement when the present time of turmoil ends.
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