Employee Communication- “Why is it so difficult?”

I facilitated a recent meeting of business owners where the conversation turned to internal communications. It was a hot button for everyone in the group, and most of them expressed considerable frustration.

“I do everything I can think of to keep my employees informed,” one said. “We have a newsletter that is offered in both print and email versions. There are monthly department meetings where we go over new information. I send out email bulletins, and write a quarterly Letter from the President discussing our plans and initiatives.”

“Yet when I ask an employee for his or her opinion on a new service or policy, I get blank looks. What do I have to do to make sure that I’m getting through?”

As the owner of the business, your primary leadership responsibility is to communicate your vision for the business. Most employees want to know the bigger picture. If you ask whether the company’s financial health, operating plans or future direction is important to them, they will universally answer “of course.” So why, when you try to communicate these things, does so much of it seem to fall on deaf ears?

Enough is enough, and that is too much!

It’s easy to blame the problem on information overload. In an attempt to rise above the din of constant communication, many business owners resort to escalating definitions of importance. This is an important message. This is a really important message. This is a vitally important message. This is an earth shaking, world stopping, straight-from-the-horses-mouth message.

Others prefer the “less is more” approach. Their logic is based on the presumption that, if they only communicate occasionally, those messages will naturally stand out. In the long run, neither approach seems to work much better than the other.

There is nothing that is guaranteed to be entirely effective, but a few guidelines will help employees understand when they need to pay attention.

Strictly limit the number of people who are allowed to broadcast company-wide, and define their communication responsibilities. The President, for example, only delivers big picture messages; those related to vision, mission and game-changing events. Let the Sales Manager talk about customers and deals, while the Human Resources Manager announces all policies. If your business isn’t large enough to divide responsibilities in this manner, name an assistant or key manager to make all announcements that aren’t presidential level.

Prohibit department heads or managers from transmitting anything to the whole company. Make it a requirement that general distribution announcements be submitted to the person designated for that area.

Unless an action requires a specific response, or has a deadline, move it to a passive medium of communication. If most of the “news” is available only on the company intranet or in the monthly newsletter, readership will probably increase.

Communication should be part of the job description

Make it part of the job description for managers and supervisors to facilitate company communications to their direct reports. Employees who are responsible for the actions and productivity of others should also be responsible for making sure they understand what is happening in the company. All too often we let supervisors escape with “None of my people read those things.” Proactive communication should be a key factor in judging any manager’s performance.

No single approach will fix every issue in internal communications. If you help your employees organize and prioritize the information, however, you have a better chance of getting through to them.

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