Here is an alarming statistic for business owners and high-level managers: Researchers say a whopping 70% of your employees have no idea about big picture strategy where they work.
So how are the people on the front lines supposed to lead the charge if they don’t know where they’re going?
Face it, many of us have worked for companies that had us running in one direction and everything was fine. Until one day someone said, “Oh, didn’t you hear? We’re not doing it that way anymore.” Sometimes it’s as simple as a new expense report form. But other times it’s something extremely important such as brand re-positioning, or even new rules of engagement for poaching employees from a top competitor. And what about safety issues or recalls?
The reality is that America isn’t short of ideas. We’re just not communicating them properly. An Interact/Harris Poll found that 91% of employees feel their leaders don’t communicate well.
Most companies use the classic top-down communicating style. The C-Suite decides on a new strategy shift. They tell the senior leaders, who tell the managers, who tell the supervisors who tell the front line employees. The CEO might send out a strategy e-mail, but it’s only one and is easily lost.
So let’s compare this to the classic “Telephone Line” game. You know how that one goes, and most importantly, how it typically ends. You line up a group of people and the first person whispers something into the ear of the next one in line. By the time the statement gets passed through the entire group, it inevitably doesn’t sound the same. It’s a fun party game but hardly the best system to relay organizational change.
The question then, is what is the best way to share time-sensitive messages with everyone on your team? Do you send out an email that may be lost amongst the dozens of other emails that we all encounter on a daily basis? Do you call a mandatory meeting? Or perhaps you hire a skywriter. You get the drift. There is currently no broadly accepted methodology for sharing critical information, and that leads to many companies just winging it, and hoping for the best.
The reality is that communicating strategic goals for the company, and the messaging that you want to be shared to your customer base is one of the most important things that a leader can do.
What direction is the organization headed? Why is it going that way? What ethics does the company embrace, and where do you stand on hot button social issues that impact your industry? In today’s incendiary climate, with the rampant use of social media, we have all seen companies caught up in a sensitive issue and have their stock fall overnight, all because of misperceptions. Leaving it up to the “Telephone Line” game is little more than a wing and a prayer. It brings to mind a quote often falsely attributed to George Bernard Shaw, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
So ask yourself: What are you doing to communicate high priority messages?
Does it look like the same email that told employees about the new expense form? Are you doing anything after the initial push to make sure employees understand the new strategy?
I recently had the opportunity to cover this very topic with Rick DeBruhl. Rick helps companies and individuals improve their communication. He shared his top 3 suggestions for effectively communicating with your workforce in order to let them know that the message you are sharing is not your run of the mill message about non-consequential topics, but rather one that deserves their unbridled attention.
- One size does not fit all. You can’t communicate new strategies the way you tell employees about a new expense form. Sure, you want to inspire them with the purpose of the new direction, but make sure they understand where they fit into the plan. Each employee group is different and you shouldn’t assume that the big company pep rally or the cool new logo impacts them the same.
- Don’t be just another car alarm. When was the last time you heard a car alarm and rushed to make sure the vehicle wasn’t being stolen? That’s because we hear them too often. If every communication from the top comes out of the same loudspeaker at the same high pitched shrill, they all blend together.
- Feed the beast. The launch went great. Everybody left the room enthused and energized. So how is it going six weeks later? Or six months. Keep feeding them the strategy. Tell your employees stories of success as well as failure. Let them know when there’s a minor tweak or a major shift. If your communication about the new strategy is “one and done”, there’s a good chance that you’re done as well.
Change is constant. Change that is effectively communicated is a much rarer commodity. And much more valuable. Far better to have a plan in place before you have an urgent message to share.