BY BRETT TYSONEditor’s note: This is the third piece of a four-part series that began with our May 2016 issue. Contributor Brett Tyson previously outlined implementing mechanisms to correct the issues inhibiting clear communication, as well as the three criteria that create an effective flow of communicating with your employees.
Every business has its own communication challenges. But a smart business will come to understand those challenges and work to either completely eliminate them or even minimize their effect to the greatest possible extent. These communication challenges prevent your employees not only from growing but also presenting their best work; therefore, these challenges must be dealt with head-on or you—and your company—will suffer their unwanted effects.
While it’s important to identify the different types of communication challenges faced by various businesses, this article’s main focus will be on helping you to discover your organization’s own unique issues affecting its communication, as well as how to fix them once you’ve identified them.
If you’re wondering what exactly constitutes a communication challenge, I recently did a needs-analysis for a local university about what theirs are, and the results presented a wide range of examples—and their effect on employees:
|Communication challenges||Impact on employees|
|High volume of email||I am overworked; I am not able to be effective|
|Others not answering emails||I am not respected; I am not seen as important; the company does not care about me|
|Implicitly hostile tone in email, text, or IM||This person/supervisor doesn’t like me—am I in trouble?|
|Lack of listening||I am not heard; my voice is not important|
|Inconsistently held meetings||I don’t know what is happening at the company; management does not value my input|
|Poorly structured meetings||It’s all about the company; we are not important|
|Lack of communication about sensitive issues||Unsure of what’s happening; the company heads don’t care about us|
|Lack of feedback (positive or negative)||My supervisor is too busy to care about me|
|Poor/inconsistent/aggressive leadership style||They don’t care about us; why should I care about the company?|
Of course, it’s easy to say that either the challenges aren’t really there or that the employees are incorrect in their thinking—but here’s the kicker: It doesn’t matter how true the statement is. If it’s true for the employee, it is a very real communication challenge. Perception is everything.
What’s most important here is how your employees are feeling in response to the obstacles they face in the company’s communication. The focus needs to be on changing these negative feelings that inhibit the employee from presenting their best work to creating positive feelings that encourage, engage, and inspire our employees to excel. This is how everyone wins.
Some managers will say, “They need to suck it up. They get paid well: We shouldn’t have to coddle them, too.” The truth is, some employees will just “suck it up” and do a good job regardless of the communication challenges that exist. These are typically the people we promote—who then expect the team they’re suddenly leading to also deal with their issues without complaint.
The problem is that the majority of employees will not just “suck it up.” They don’t want to hide their frustration and are further upset by the expectation that they should. People are emotional beings: To most effectively harness their creativity, ideas, and inspiration, we have to take this very human component into account.
You need to start by eliciting information from your employees, which is how you’ll best understand where you have to begin your work. If you believe that everything is OK within your company, I urge you to try this anyway: I have always been surprised myself by what I learn from my employees.
This exercise will not be a huge time investment, so it’s best to do in groups divided by department to encourage greater freedom in what the employees will feel comfortable sharing. Additionally, the person running each meeting should be a neutral authority to further ensure that the group is comfortable being open and honest.
From there, the person running the session should explain to the group that the goal is to help employees achieve their very best with the company. So that the whole group truly understands the goal, explain the following—and emphasize the win-win relationship: “The philosophy behind this exercise is to assist employees in managing communication mechanisms, challenges, and conflicts in a manner that both promotes continued engagement and enables the employee to present their best work.”
Add that you want to discuss any ways that internal communications frustrate them, and guide them toward talking about those pain points so that everyone can work together to arrive at a solution—or at least a compromise. Let your employees know that you want them to succeed: If something can be done differently to make your company a better place to work, then you’ll do it.
These sessions should also be accompanied by a flip chart, divided into two columns: one listing your communication challenges and another describing how it makes employees feel. Take suggestions from the group, but remain focused on discussing only your communication challenges. Statements like, “Dispatch doesn’t distribute work fairly” is not what you’re looking for right now; the communication challenge in this instance is that the employees have not been properly educated on how work is distributed—which is something you can work on. You’ll find that many things coming to light can be fixed easily to make for a better work environment.
Once you’re done, thank the group and let them know what you are going to do with the information. There are a couple of ways to tackle this: You can tell them that the management team will be working on the lists compiled from all of the groups to begin establishing better practices, or explain that you have set up a committee comprising various departments that will work on the communication challenges and bring some concrete suggestions forward. I always prefer to use the committee option, as it gets a bigger population engaged in the solution.
The interesting thing here is that simply by going through this process, you are engaging with your employees and helping them to already begin experiencing the company in a different way.
Your committee should meet weekly and begin to flesh out each of the challenges listed, all while compiling a concrete list that the company can commit to working on, with a focus on one or two priority issues that seem to be the biggest obstacles. It will make an impact on your team if they see that you’re proactively seeking improvement, you will be moving forward.
Once the list is complete, the committee should work with management to establish new standard operating procedures, write them down, and enforce them. If there is one thing that you should have no tolerance for, it is that anything is hindering you employees from doing their best work.
What you will begin to see as you break down the challenges and seek solutions is that you need to work on your previously discussed communication mechanisms as well as your approach to personal conflict, which will be the subject of the next article in this series. All the components of the model will begin to work together to provide you with a dynamic organization that treats its employees as ambassadors by offering them management support, education, coaching, and the tools to be great. [CD0716]