Miscommunication is a corporate epidemic. There are countless examples of how organizations have lost revenue, invited lawsuits, encountered massive turnover, or even dissolved because they failed to connect. Reaching out to customers, shareholders, and the general public should be a high priority, but it’s even more critical to communicate internally and connect with the ones who propel the company forward. When top management remains silent it creates confusion, lowers morale, and creates a toxic culture that will impede that company’s ability to prosper.
When managers neglect to communicate with their employees, it leaves an information vacuum that will quickly be filled with assumptions, skepticism, rumors, and drama that rival a good soap opera. If employees are left in the dark, they will speculate and it won’t be positive. No news is always bad news. They will assume that management is calloused or incompetent – or a twisted combination of both. Leaders who routinely operate beneath a shroud of secrecy devalue their most expensive asset – their staff. Actions might speak louder than words, but silence screams into a megaphone. Through the lack of communication, managers are “telling’ their employees they are not important enough to be informed of management decisions, and they have no vested interest in the viability of the organization. They feel like day laborers or contractors instead of dedicated members of a team pushing toward a common goal. Although organizations range in size and purpose, there are several principles that will improve the communication between upper-level managers and their employees.
Make it official AND unofficial
Have systems in place that promote dialogue between management and staff. Frequent meetings, newsletters, and collective training sessions can be vehicles used to disseminate information throughout the company. However, quantity doesn’t automatically increase quality. Meetings that aren’t run efficiently tend to soak up valuable time while leaving issues unresolved. Newsletters can be predictable and stale, and training sessions are often frivolous. Leaders need to evaluate these systems, not just to affirm they exist but to ensure they’re worthwhile.
Formal channels are essential to organizational health, yet it is equally important to communicate informally. Small talk in the hallway or in the break room tends to be more genuine than sitting in the boss’ office where people tend to be overly guarded in what they say. Obviously some topics shouldn’t be discussed in front of the coffee pot, but it’s important for managers to systematically move around and chit chat, as long as they’re not emulating Michael Scott.
Feed the rumor mill
Whether we like it or not, office chatter is unavoidable. Instead of ignoring the water cooler talk, leaders can use it to their advantage. I worked for a CEO who would strategically drop information on those whom he knew would “talk.” If the rumor mill is running then feed it with accurate information.
Communication is a two-way street. Managers should ensure their messages are clearly disseminated throughout the organization, but it’s just as important to receive unfiltered messages from employees at every level. This can be more difficult than it sounds. Having an “open-door policy” or tagging on a question/answer session at the end of a meeting usually doesn’t cut it. Leaders must consistently foster a culture that promotes dialogue between employees and management. If feedback is officially permitted but unofficially discouraged, managers will remain disconnected from their team. Messages should go up the organizational ladder as clearly as they go down.
Since each organization has a unique set of dynamics, a one-size-fits-all communication model is impractical. Leaders need to evaluate the effectiveness of their company’s internal communication to look for gaps or clogs in the informational pipeline. It might require a few minor adjustments or reconstructive surgery. Ensuring that everyone is connected and the communication flow is adequate won’t solve every problem. But it will make organizations more cohesive, more adaptive to change, and ultimately more efficient in fulfilling their mission.
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