The right leadership communication is critical to employee engagement, which in turn is critical to business success.
Improved staff engagement reaps numerous benefits: increased motivation, greater creativity and more focused business-thinking leading to greater overall efficiency and effectiveness.
While improved engagement is a cost-effective way to realise a wealth of long-term business rewards, too many company leaders do not affect the required communication skills. This is often because they think they will have to adopt complicated communication routines. But this is the opposite of what is required.
Below are five simple, effective communication techniques that build employee engagement and greatly improve the way a company operates.
1. Be up-front
Share information, especially that which is normally deemed ‘too sensitive’ – on closer inspection it rarely is! The more information people have, and the more they are helped to understand it, the more they contribute in a meaningful way.
2. Ask ‘what can we learn from this?’ not ‘who did this?’
Staff will do the wrong thing and say the wrong thing – and so will you. Your road to improved communication and increased engagement will be a time of trial and error; during this process everyone will be learning how to do things differently. Be understanding when others make mistakes, and accept and admit to errors yourself as the leader. Being open about problems, as well as successes, will create greater trust and respect from staff.
3. Explain to people what you need from them
It’s amazing how often managers think that, because they have told people they want them to engage differently, they will magically know what this means. They won’t. It you want people to challenge you more, explain what kind of challenge you want and about what. If you want people to share more ideas, explain to them what kind of ideas you are looking for and ask them questions to get them thinking. If you want people to speak up more in meetings, describe the kind of thing that you would like them to speak up about.
4. Speak to people as if they are grown-ups
Inherent in the manager/team member relationship is the tendency for the manager to treat team members as if they are kids, which just leads to the team members behaving like kids. Don’t think you do this? Refer back to point (1) – how often do you think you can’t possibly trust people with information because they (a) won’t understand it (b) can’t be trusted to keep it confidential or (c) will misinterpret it? If you are deciding not to share for any one of these three reasons, you are treating people like children. The people you are leading are fully fledged adults dealing with the same challenges in life as you are. If you treat them like adults, they will behave like adults. If you want to know how to treat someone like an adult, think how you communicate with a colleague that you trust, respect and see as an equal. Do you apply the same communication criteria with your team members?
5. Avoid labelling it – just do it
Labelling something is nearly always the kiss of death. Telling people you are about to introduce ‘employee engagement’ – or giving it any other similar label – simply provides them with something to resist, ridicule or prove was the latest ‘flavour of the month’. Instead follow the four tips above – and keep doing them over and over again – and watch as the employee engagement happens. It doesn't ever need to be given a name!
If leaders are committed to making changes in the way they communicate, they can expect amazing outcomes in terms of engaging employees. We know, because we have seen the difference that even the most simple changes can make. We would go so far as to say that your business results ultimately rely on excellent communication and staff engagement. Good communication is free and reaps big rewards; bad communication is very expensive for every organisation.
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