Employee communication handy hints: how to prevent your employees being treated like mushrooms!

Q.  Why are employees like mushrooms?

A.  Because they’re kept in the dark and fed plenty of bulls***

It’s an oldie but a goodie; yet sadly this situation is true for many organisations – even small ones.  We’ve all experienced communication breakdowns when only two people are involved in the exchange, so why do many employers mistakenly assume that effective communication will happen all by itself in a business of 5, 15, 50 or 500+ people?

Here are some ways that organisations of all shapes and sizes can improve communication with their employees:

Make sure everyone has good communication skills

Effective communication is essential to all roles, so include communication skills in everyone’s job descriptions – particularly anyone who manages or supervises people.

Many communication breakdowns occur at middle management level, so look beyond technical experience and also consider communication and leadership skills when hiring supervisors and managers.  Provide training and mentoring where communication skill gaps are identified.

Keep it simple and avoid management speak and acronyms.  It is likely that most employees won’t understand commonly-used management terms such as FY (financial year), silos, objective and shareholder value.

Around 50% of New Zealand’s workforce has significant literacy, language or numeracy gaps.  Although these issues are more prevalent in blue collar workforces, many white-collar employees and people in management roles are also affected.  Using plain English is a start, but also take time to check that people have understood what they have been told.

Get communication flowing throughout the organisation

Spend more time communicating with employees, rather than at them.  Put steps in place to foster top down, bottom up and inter-team communication.

Regularly share the organisation’s big picture information with all employees so that everyone understands how they in their day-to-day jobs contribute.

Encourage senior managers to reach out and take time to get to know people at all levels of the organisation.  A chief executive once told me he got the best intelligence about what was going on in the business when he joined other employees taking a smoking break outside.

Seek feedback through surveys and by encouraging questions during presentations, etc.  If you sense your people may be reluctant to put up their hand to ask a question, then get them to forward questions in advance to a third party.

Words, pictures, actions

People process information in different ways; some prefer written information, while others respond better to spoken or visual messages.  It is therefore important to use different communication methods, rather than relying solely on written communiques such as emails and newsletters.

People often have to receive a message several times before it sticks, so don’t assume that they will know something just because it has been communicated to them once.

Walk the talk!  Employees will quickly become cynical if there’s no action to back the promises. 

Fostering great communication throughout an organisation can be challenging and time-consuming, but getting it right will ultimately save money and time, as well as helping to enhance its reputation with customers and prospective employees.  It will also help to make people feel happier and more engaged in their jobs.  What’s not to like about that?

Contact us to find out more about how to improve employee communication in your organisation.