Communicating with Employees Is Harder Than You Think—Here's How to Do It Right
1 April 2019
A clear and honest flow of communication between an organization and its employees is critical. But all too often, there is a gap between what your formal messaging communicates, and what's actually happening on the ground. Are your programs, leaders and corporate rhetoric in sync?
Research conducted into interpersonal communication at UCLA reveals that only 7 percent of communication rests with the words that are said. The remaining 93 percent comes through body language and tone of voice. Now apply these findings to organizational communication. Organizations work hard to communicate important messages to leaders and employees: newsletters, town hall meetings, blast email and scripted communication tools for leaders are reviewed before release, to ensure that the right words and tone are used. Sometimes they spin the bad news a bit, so employees don't get restless.
But similar to interpersonal communication, there is another side to organizational communication. No matter how effective the script or newsletter, there is a ton of "organizational noise" that often holds more influence over employees' beliefs than carefully crafted text. (This is based on my 40 years as an HR executive watching what employees "hear.")
What is your "organizational noise" communicating—and does it align with the message you're attempting to convey through more formal communication channels? Let's explore a few common messages that are often disconnected from what's actually at work in your organization.
"Employees are our most valuable asset."
Almost every organization says this, but are you walking the talk? An employee may think, "You say I'm important, but my manager has not bothered to help me learn about this organization in my first few weeks, so that I can be quickly productive. I am left to stumble around on my own discovering things like key people I need to work with and where to find the answers to my basic questions."
A leader might wonder, "I know we say employees are our most valuable asset, but I have 30 direct reports and there is no way I can give each of them the time they need to develop, grow and improve their performance."
A long-service employee may think, "I wonder why the new guy gets a brand new computer, and I'm still working on this clunker?"
"Teamwork is important here."
A leader might ask, "How do I make salary increase decisions based on individual performance when we are asked to focus on teamwork?"
A team might commiserate among themselves, "When 'they' say that teamwork is important, apparently 'they' haven't told the other team to meet their deadlines, so that we can meet ours."
A leadership team member might become frustrated when she realizes that a peer has initiated a project that impacts her area, without having involved her in the planning process.
"Performance is important to this organization."
A team member might muse, "Why am I absorbing all of this extra work, when it is supposed to be on my team member's plate? When are 'they' going to hold him accountable?"
A leadership team member might wonder, "I'm really glad to get my year-end bonus, but I'm confused because I know we didn't meet the performance targets that were set."
Align Your Communication
"Organizational noise" can consist of programs, policies, practices, and scripted one-on-one communications (keeping in mind that the best script falters when the body language doesn't support the words.) Organizational communication is so much more than the carefully crafted newsletters, email and scripts.
Programs like performance management, compensation and employee relations are really nothing other than message points. The performance management goals tell employees what to do. Compensation plans communicate what the organization believes is important. Disciplinary policies are there to provide a leadership framework, and ensure consistency in treatment of employees. On-boarding programs for new employees welcomes people to the organization.
So, what do your programs, processes, practices and policies convey? Is your messaging consistent with your corporate rhetoric?
Photo: Creative Commons