5 keys to communicating with employees as (gasp) adults

Addressing false rumors, mining employees’ ideas, and motivating productivity are all part of a manager’s job.

Communication is not the most important part of a manager’s job—it is the manager’s job. Here are five things managers should do to ensure effective communication.

Let employees know what’s going on in the organization.

Employees want to know what’s happening in their organization. Where are we now? Where are we headed? Are we growing? What problems are we trying to address? What changes can we expect? If you keep people in the dark, you will ensure they feel detached from the organization.

On the other hand, sharing information with employees on a routine basis helps strengthen their commitment to the organization, even through the bad times. Make it a habit to routinely let employees “in” on what’s going on in the organization.

Pay attention to rumors.

Rumors begin when employees “fill in the blanks” with whatever they think is the real story. Sometimes it is the real story. However, more often than not the story is distorted and even untrue. Managers who ignore rumors can quickly lose control of the situation. They are also missing an important opportunity to communicate openly with their employees.

If much of the information in your organization is spread by rumors amongst employees, it’s a sign that something is wrong with your communication. When you hear of a rumor, whether true or not, expose it in a constructive manner. Be honest with employees. Employees would rather hear bad news than no news. Don’t be afraid to say: “I know there’s a rumor about X. Let me share with you the facts about X.”

Tell employees why their job is important.

There are still some “old school” managers out there who say, “I don’t have to make my employees feel important. Why should I? They’re getting a paycheck. That should be enough!” If you are one of those managers, you need to adjust your thinking. People need to understand how their job fits into the organization’s big picture. They need to know that what they do every day matters, that it helps the organization achieve goals.

Tell them why and how their job is essential and why they are a valuable part of the organization. If you can’t explain these things to a person who works for you, then why are you giving them a paycheck to begin with? Think about it!

Give feedback.

Some may want more than others, but almost everyone wants feedback on how they are doing. If you fail to provide feedback to your employees, you are not doing your job. Period. Though it’s unpleasant to give negative feedback to poorly performing employees, you are not doing them any favors by withholding honesty.

Also, it is just as important to give feedback to the star employee as it is to the poor employee. Some managers won’t do this, leaving the “star” to wonder why his or her outstanding performance has not been noticed. Do not operate by the “if you don’t hear anything bad from me, you’re doing fine” rule. It is important to give both good and bad feedback all the time.

Ask for feedback.

A story is told about a worker at a Ford Motors plant who came up with an idea for a manufacturing improvement that saved the company hundreds of thousands of dollars. Henry Ford himself visited the worker, handed him a reward, and asked him when he came up with the idea. “Oh, it was years ago!” the worker said. A shocked Ford asked the worker why he didn’t say something earlier. “Nobody asked me before now!” the worker replied. *

How many times does this happen in companies? How often are employees’ ideas, concerns, and suggestions overlooked simply because no one ever asks them? When people aren’t given proper channels to communicate their thoughts and concerns, the company loses out. A suggestion box next to the time clock isn’t enough.

Meet regularly with employees and ask them questions such as: “What are we doing well? What can we do better? How can we save money? How can we better serve our customers?” You may be surprised at the valuable information you get by doing this. Don’t ever assume that your employees have nothing to say. They do. Ask them.

* S. Suzawa. “How the Japanese achieve excellence.” Training & Development Journal, May 1985.

Kelly Mollica is a consultant at The Centre Group, where a version of this article first appeared.


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