What’s really going on here? | nnbw.com

What’s really going on here?

Marlene Olsen

You pay your staff a lot of money. So, why is it that when you finish a successful project, land a new client or start a new sales promotion, the employees who are not directly involved are usually the last to know? It is very possible that some of your employees are saying, “I don’t know,” every time they are asked, “What’s going on at work?”

An information-stifled environment can create low employee morale – leaving people with no emotional investment in their workplace. Worse yet, some may be totally disengaged and ready to get out.

How can a CEO or manager expect employees to make meaningful contributions to the business if they lack accurate information about successes, goals and strategies? Without information, employees can’t play a part in long-range planning, spread the good word in the community or help to improve products and services. They can’t offer input on enhancing work processes. Most important, they can’t change the way they work in response to changing marketplace conditions factors that could prove crucial in a company’s economic survival.

Investing time and effort in effective communication can pay off in a lot of ways: job satisfaction, productivity, new business leads, potential employment pool and more.

But, before you make a deal with yourself that you are going to get that long-awaited newsletter out, hold on. I’m not writing about canned information and “pep talks,” which are often just puffery and never a factor in genuine morale building; I am referring to the genuine stuff.

When preparing to communicate with employees, first of all, plan to do it yourself. Also, the best approach is to reduce the amount of information based on what you think is important, and to emphasize the information they think is important. The golden rule: If people don’t understand you, it’s your problem, not theirs.

Most good employees truly want to know how the business is doing and how they can help. When you present information, think of the following points: be real, don’t get fancy, and do it yourself. A leader doesn’t hide behind e-mails. This is a function of treating people with respect. If there’s any kind of news, employees deserve to hear it from the leader.

If this task seems too overwhelming with your own plate-full of work, what is the single-most important thing to communicate to your staff? It’s the company vision and its progress, which must be communicated consistently. It’s important for everyone to know where the business is going. Good communication helps people understand the company’s goals. People want to understand how their individual efforts contribute to the larger objective.

When discussing your vision, be as specific as possible. Strive to fully explain the “why” behind the vision. Stay away from slogans, themes or cute phrases. They never mean the same thing to all people. And be consistent. When the leader keeps saying the same thing consistently, employees will eventually come to believe it and act accordingly in their jobs. Staying focused sends the message that you’re fully committed to the company’s direction.

Many CEOs and managers think that transmitting information alone is enough to satisfy employees’ need for communication. They believe the more information they give, the more convincing they become. In fact, most people make their decisions based on two factors the information they get and the emotional impact on them. People often make major decisions based more on how they feel rather than what they think.

Communicate your passion. As leader, you have certain values and ideas you feel passionate about. Make that passion known to others. This powerful emotional tool enables you to forge a link with peoples’ hearts and souls.

Communicate in person. Even if your employees read every single one of your emails and memos an unlikely possibility they’re still only encountering words on paper or on a computer screen. When it comes to emotional impact, nothing is better the leader talking face-to-face with staff. Your presence alone carries great weight.

All of your employees have critical information you need to hear what’s going on in the business from their perspective. A two-way exchange is more powerful than one-way communication. One way to get that feedback is to communicate by walking around and sticking your head in peoples’ offices. Ask them what’s happening with their work, what’s exciting and what’s challenging. The simple act of sitting down in their space, not yours, shows that you care about them as individuals.

But, as you walk the halls, make sure that you are listening. Active listening involves effort because the listener must stay open and non-defensive, in spite of whatever is being said. In this way, leaders learn as much as possible from their employees and are better equipped to address their concerns.

What constitutes active listening? Spend more time listening than talking. Be aware of personal biases. Don’t answer questions with questions. Don’t finish other people’s sentences. Don’t daydream while others are talking. Let others talk. Don’t dominate the conversation. Plan your response after the other person has finished speaking. Offer feedback, but don’t constantly interrupt. Good listening stimulates trust, improves relationships, and boosts team spirit.

Finally, maintain a regular schedule. Don’t think one meeting, company presentation or newsletter will do all that you need it to do. Have a plan that guarantees consistent communications quarterly, monthly and, when necessary, weekly. Keep the company’s vision fresh, pertinent and vivid, so that the audience always feels part of the plan.

If your communication efforts are successful, you will build a culture of trust and openness that positively impacts your bottom line. If you communicate poorly or not at all, you and the company lose what many employees have to offer.

Marlene Olsen is president of olsen & associates public relations, creative collaborations, etc., in Reno. Contact her at molsen@o-apr.com.