When Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Effective communication is the difference between just saying something and saying something and getting it done
Unengaged workers cost the U.S. billions of dollars a year in lost productivity. According to a study by Gallup, only 50 percent of employees know what their employer’s expectations are. The Gallup report claims that the number of employees who feel managers do not spend enough time explaining goals and plans exceeds 71 percent. As a result, more than two-thirds of employees lack engagement.
Lack of engagement means that employees are showing up to do the bare minimum to finish the job without termination. If employees are blaming their lack of engagement on their managers’ poor communication skills, what is company leadership to do?
The Breakdown of effective communication
Our collective mistake is thinking that talking at people is the same as communicating with them when, in fact, to be truly effective, one must engage them in the dialog.
Communication is generally defined as the flow of information from the sender to the receiver irrespective of whether the recipient has properly downloaded the message or not. The term effective communication, on the other hand, describes the flow of information in exactly the same manner the sender intends to do so, and the recipient hears exactly what the sender intended.
The difference is that effective communication (EC) transforms words into actions. It is critical not only to be accomplishing things, but also to be finishing them right. EC works best when sharing it with everybody all at once. It ensures that everybody receives the same message and leaves little room for misinterpretation. But because EC is most successful with consistency, reiterating the messages can be as critical. This can happen in a smaller, team setting.
The disconnect occurs when promoting people into a managerial position. There is a natural assumption that they will communicate the corporate mission and explain how individuals contribute to its success. What we fail to recognize is that their communication skills are not always in alignment with their position or the company’s. Often, through no fault of their own, they don’t know how to communicate let alone what or when to communicate.
Poor communication is one of the most prevalent corporate epidemics crippling companies today. In addition to employee non-engagement, when communication is lacking, morale is low, mistakes are high, and failure is rampant. Attrition increases, service decreases, and teams are non-existent when it comes to collaboration, production, and innovation.
Teaching managers how to communicate effectively can be the biggest difference between success and failure — theirs, their teams’, and the company’s. In a Deloitte study, fewer than one-third of employees said they knew or understood the broader objectives of the company and its obligations to its stakeholders, let alone their own roles and how they contribute to the bigger picture. Gallup suggests that managers “must ensure that employees know what is expected of them and have the right materials and equipment to do their work.”
Interpersonal connections are still the most important when it comes to communicating effectively. Not only do they build relationships, they solidify trust. As such, the most important thing a manager can do is to create a safe space where people feel comfortable voicing their concerns and sharing their ideas. This includes fostering bottom-up conversations, allowing questions for clarity, and encouraging two-way dialog, all without repercussion.
Engaged leaders champion their teams and are inclusive of various levels of understanding, sometimes reviewing messages multiple times.
The role of a manager is no longer that of a task master, according to Gallup. Managers “now have to develop their employees and motivate them to perform”. In order for them to be successful at motiving team and individual performance, leadership needs to “equip managers of all skill levels to carry out critical conversations with employees. They should provide clear expectations, training and education for managers, so they are well-equipped to be coaches”. They, too, need the tools and training to be effective.
When employees feel knowledgeable, they feel empowered. Empowering employees allows them to not only do a better job, but they also become advocates for the company and its brand; both in the marketplace and community. A study by Towers Watson (“Capitalizing on Effective Communication – How Courage, Innovation and Discipline Drive Business Results in Challenging Times,” 2010) confirms the investment of communication stating that over a five-year period, “the returns to shareholders by companies with ‘highly effective internal communication’ exceeded returns by the ‘least effective companies’ by 47 percent.”
The benefit of managers who can effectively communicate is that they engage their teams. Gallup found that consistent communication — whether in person, over the phone or electronically — correlates with higher employee engagement; and those with the highest engagement are communicating daily.
Good managers understand that effective communication engages employees; and actively involves them in the quality of their output and invests them in the success company’s success. With clear, concise, complete communication, employees are sure to produce — at a minimum — to their potential.