January is a time when many organizations present new and/or updated goals to guide behavior during the year ahead. Often, these goals have been weeks or even months in the making. Yet many leaders feel that all they need to do now is communicate the goals once and then everyone can go back to business as usual.
The leader’s job is to consistently support informing, inspiring, and engaging employees in what needs to be done and how. And that means communicating the goals, strategies, and key destination points not just once but on a regular basis throughout the year. At this time of year, I typically recommend that clients pay special attention to the “inform” phase of the informing, inspiring, and engaging process.
Before jumping to the conclusion that communication is one of those “soft” skills that makes employees feel good but doesn’t really impact the bottom line, consider this:
study after study confirms that productivity and employee commitment are highest in the work areas where people are kept fully and regularly informed. In other words, the more you effectively communicate to employees, the better your return on investment.
Research also shows that organizations that communicate effectively outpace those that don’t. A global Watson Wyatt study of more than 267 companies representing all major industry sectors found that a significant improvement in communication effectiveness was associated with a 29.5 percent increase in market value. Plus, companies that communicated more effectively enjoyed employee turnover rates below the averages in their industries. (Not necessarily a problem in this economy, but as things continue to improve, keeping your best employees will go back to being a challenge for many).
Here’s another reason to communicate often: we simply don’t retain information very well, especially with only one exposure to the information.
Tests have shown that immediately after listening to a 10-minute oral presentation, the average listener has heard, understood, properly evaluated and retained only about half of what was said. Within the next 48 hours, this drops off another 50%, to a final 25% level of effectiveness. So after only one presentation, the likelihood of anyone having clarity on organizational strategies and goals is minute at best. Only through constant communication, delivered in a variety of formats, can we hope to create alignment, understanding, and commitment.
What’s the best method for initially communicating goals? According to employees, it’s face-to-face. Most organizations use a variety of electronic and written methods –such as emails, newsletters, bulletin boards and intranets — to communicate with employees. However, surveys show that, even today, employees place significantly greater value on face-to face communication, especially when it comes from the person they work for.
In most cases, the preferred source of information for employees is direct contact with the manager or supervisor. Yet, many employees feel that their managers don’t communicate effectively with them. If not corrected, this dissatisfaction frequently snowballs into lack of trust, mediocre effort, increased turnover, and disengagement from the goals and objectives of the company. So as part of the “inform” phase, make sure your managers and supervisors have the skills to communicate effectively, both in one-to-one and group situations.
Also, keep in mind that communication needs to be two-way. During team and company meetings, set the tone for openness, mutual understanding and respect. Don’t try to force closure during the initial discussion. Instead, make sure that team members have future opportunities to discuss and process the goals. You have probably had several months to consider and digest everything in the strategic framework, but this is the first time many employees will have heard them. Creating a process for people to ask questions a few days after the initial presentation will go a long way toward enhancing their understanding of the goals.
The “inform” phase involves making sure every employee knows the basics of your organization and/or team goals. It does not mean doing a once-a-year communication and then going silent on updates because you’re too busy. Things change frequently in business today. And when changes occur that affect goals, measures, and how things will get done, good leaders take the time to communicate again and again.
A good rule of thumb — when you think you’re communicating too much, you’re only halfway there!