Too many leaders take internal company communications for granted and fail to capitalize on one of the most powerful components in a manager’s tool kit.
They dutifully explain decisions and provide directions to their staff, expecting that managers will pass on the relevant information to their direct reports, who in turn will do likewise, and so on down the line.
The problems with this approach are many. Parts of the message can get lost in translation, some managers simply don’t communicate well, some just get it wrong, and still others choose not to communicate at all.
I’ve learned that when communication from management breaks down, the organization at large makes its own assumptions as to what is behind the company’s actions and decisions, and often those assumptions reflect poorly on the current management team’s competence.
Over the course of my career, I’ve experienced the benefits that accrue to a company from a well-designed, comprehensive internal communications strategy that is well executed.
There is no better way to gain employee alignment with the company’s mission and objectives or to short circuit the company rumor mill that so often negatively impacts employee morale, performance and productivity. Equally important, all employees, regardless of job level, want the same things from their employer: to be respected as individuals as well as for the value they bring to the company and to be recognized for their contributions to the company’s success. These elements can and should be integrated into the company’s communication plan.
Periodic, planned messages from the top to the entire organization are also fundamental to a good plan. These messages are best delivered live to a group audience with time allocated for questions, but video or written communications can also be effective if the coordinating managers are fully able to respond to questions or concerns expressed by those receiving the message.
In addition, business unit and department heads must also hold team meetings at least quarterly to review progress against the team’s objectives, provide updated company information and respond to concerns expressed by their teams. It is important to communicate both good and bad news and to reaffirm the objectives going forward.
I’ve found that setting up common metrics and targets that foster friendly competition between groups or departments ensures that goals remain visible and encourages employees to work in teams and build on each others’ ideas. To be effective, top managers must routinely review and comment on posted charts and graphs and openly discuss progress toward goals or the lack thereof. When managers pay attention to metrics, so do employees.
Of course, individual employee goal setting and performance measurement must be part of the plan and linked to the overall company objectives. Often, this critical link is missing, and employees have little to guide them when they encounter what appear to be conflicting objectives. This can cause a program to go off track or at least slow down progress until the direction is clarified.
Take advantage of all of the possible benefits a sound communication plan can bring to your company. So far I’ve found only one drawback; no matter how often you communicate and how much information you provide, it will not be enough to satisfy your employees.
Now that’s a good problem to have!
George Perry has more than 40 years of experience in engineering, operations and executive management. He retired as president and CEO of Yazaki North America Inc. in December 2009.