Consultant Says Leaders Should Communicate More With Employees
That's the word from David Grossman, CEO of DG&A, a leadership and communications consulting firm.
"Unfortunately, in general, senior leaders are not communicating as much as they could be or should be," he stated. "If I look back a little bit, before these crazy economic times, leaders weren't communicating then either. Studies indicate employees feel they don't understand where the company is going and what's happening inside the organization."
In many cases, he continued, executives have never learned how to communicate. In many cases, they were promoted because they got fantastic results as individual contributors. When they moved up in the organization, they were never trained in communications.
"There are many misperceptions about what it means to be a leader-communicator," Grossman said. "One of the common barriers leaders face is a sense they need to have all the answers. In many cases, when you're going through change, you're never going to have all the answers. Unfortunately, we're seeing senior leaders waiting until they have all the answers."
What a lot of them don't realize is they actually enhance their credibility when they admit they don't have an answer right now and promise they'll get the answer. Instead, Grossman said, they improvise and employees realize they aren't getting the truth.
"If you ask an employee, they expect senior leaders to help them know-in a truthful, straightforward, proactive way-what's going on and why, and how they're going to be impacted," he said.
If company executives don't supply answers, the vacuum will be filled by other sources. That information may or may not be correct.
Today, there's a wide choice of ways to reach out to employees, from traditional media such as newsletters to social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Grossman suggests-especially in times of change, crisis and uncertainty-opting for basic face-to-face, voice-to-voice contact.
Unfortunately, he said, face-to-face communication is on life support inside many organizations. Many people are enamored by social media. Grossman argued that while social media may work very well for reaching external audiences, they fall short when used inside organizations.
"I've sort of dubbed my self the anti-social-media guy," he quipped.
Who should be doing the communicating? The immediate supervisor? The CEO? Grossman said research shows the most trusted and creditable source is the immediate supervisor. That supervisor adds context and relevance to the information by explaining what the change is going to mean on the teller line or in the IT department.
Employees want to understand the strategy at multiple levels, he added. "They want to understand how it going to affect the organization. Then they want to understand how it is going to impact their work group and them as individuals."
"If we're making a change inside the organization, and we look at it as if it were in a book, senior leaders may be on Chapter 13 with all they know, but employees are on Chapter 1. They need to know the basics, the context, first."
Just as the immediate supervisor leads the list of sources employees want to hear from, the next authority employees want to hear from is the most senior person in the organization. That top executive is considered the-buck-stops-here person, and employees are listening for agreement between what they're hearing from their supervisor and what the CEO says.
If you're wondering how effective your own communications within the organization are, Grossman suggested you simply ask. Survey employees and solicit their feedback. How well is information flowing within the company? What's working, what isn't? What questions do you have? The answers provide a baseline to assess where you are and how you need to improve.
As for board support for improving employee communications, Grossman believes the board will be looking for a link between better communications and key drivers such as increased revenue and customer satisfaction.
He indicated there's a lot of research showing the connection between an organization that improves their communications and their ability to boost bottom-line results.
Solid internal communications can also encourage employees to give a company the benefit of the doubt when they read headlines such as, "Local Financial Institutions May Not Pass Stress Test" and begin questioning the status of the credit union where they work.
"It's all the more reason for an organization to communicate regularly with their people so they know where things stand inside the organization," Grossman said.
When Grossman works with senior leaders, he stresses the following steps for communicating change: create a list of what you know about the change; identify what you don't know; single out what you're working on or trying to figure out; and find myths or misconceptions you can correct.