December 20, 2013
Hey, leaders: Keep employees in the company loop
Employees don’t always know what is going on in their organizations. Yet communication is critical for all levels of employees. Research shows that engagement goes up when employees feel they have the necessary information to do their jobs, and if they have two-way communication with their managers.
Recently, a manager told me that in her company, her boss never let her or the team know what he learned from his boss. He didn’t “cascade down” the information coming from the top. The chief executive, however, thought that everything he shared with this leader was being also shared with his staff. So he was surprised to find out that lower-level employees were not aware of some of the company’s policies or news.
This lack of transparency seems to be a common problem in organizations today, but it is increasingly important for leaders to keep their staffs informed. Employees can’t achieve the company’s goals if they don’t know what they are. They can’t get excited about the vision or mission if they haven’t been told what it is. They have difficulty planning for the future; instead, they can seem confused, lost and misguided when they don’t have accurate information.
Further, they can feel resentful and angry when they are the last to know or, worse, are not told what is going on. This makes them feel unimportant and not valued in the company. In fact, when transparency is low, employees view the organization and leaders with more skepticism and suspicion, leading to a breakdown of trust.
So what can companies do to achieve transparency of information?
Do not assume that messages shared from the top leader to the next level down are being shared all the way to the lowest-level employee. Make sure to follow up with employees at all levels to see where there may be communication gaps.
Senior-level leaders need to periodically meet or share information with their mid-level managers. Sometimes having face-to-face meetings in addition to news alerts or emails can be very helpful to communicate new initiatives or answer questions. Once middle managers know what is going on, they should have similar meetings with their direct reports to keep them in the loop.
Follow up with leaders to ensure that they are sharing accurate information. Use trustworthy leaders to verify what others say. Sometimes managers might share information with their peers or staff, yet it may be biased by their own perspective and spin on things that may not be accurate. Verifying the message is important.
Put a system in place to ensure that employees learn what is going on. This could include changes in strategic directions, policies and procedures, among other things.
Communicate clearly, concisely and often. While it may seem like you are overcommunicating, ask your employees what they think. Usually, they will tell you it is not enough.
Share good news along with bad news. Hearing about awards, accomplishments, new business deals, etc., can inspire employees. They also want to understand financials and how the firm is doing. They can do a better job of helping the company succeed if they know the challenges it is facing.
Use a variety of formats to keep people informed -- newsletters, communication boards, blogs, social media, employee town halls or forums, among other methods. The higher the level of the leader, the more employees will value face-to-face meetings by him or her. They want to see his or her facial reactions and other nonverbal cues when delivering messages or asking for input.
Be willing to share candid feedback (both positive and constructive) with employees in a developmental manner. This may mean that some leaders will need training in how to provide this type of feedback.
Periodically ask your employees to rate how informed they feel about the firm’s practices, vision, strategic direction, etc. You might think they are well informed, but they may not think so.
Leaders who communicate with their employees are often seen in a more positive light and can gain loyalty from their employees. Transparent organizations value open and candid information that enables employees to make more informed decisions. This can benefit both the individual employees and the company.
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