Engaging employees through better communications

Stephen ManallackWithout good communication, no amount of incentives, pay increases or other HR activity will produce an engaged employee. This is that valuable employee who has moved from the narrow "I'll just do my job" to the broad "how can I help?" attitude. There are six imperatives for those who seek to use communication as part of real leadership.

Make the time
To say you don't have time to communicate is to say you don't have time to lead. This communication is more than a few memos, emails and meetings. It is vastly more than "my door is always open". A good leader needs a strategy to shape their communication, and then the ability to see it through. Time, persistence and repetition are essential ingredients of good communication.

Relate it to them
Naturally employees want to know how information and news relates to them, yet mostly they get swags of information and no help in differentiating it. Information overload and communication failure are team mates. A discussion of developments within your company or organisation should include what these developments mean to your team and to their customers. Your people want to know the "why?" of things that happen, because with the "why?" they can become engaged.

Don't wait to communicate
A massive leadership problem is too much secrecy. We are not comfortable as leaders if we do not have all the answers, so we wait until it is too late. The result is always rumour, gossip and declining engagement. For many, the first step to good leadership is a public acknowledgement that you don't know everything. Being comfortable with not having all the answers provides real integrity to your messages. So tell them what you know, tell them what you don't know and tell them when you should know more.

Be open and honest
People have great inbuilt lie detectors. Nothing switches people off quicker than a lie, but this also extends to gossip and "talking big", a failing of those managers who desperately want to impress and think that "if I am a leader I should know everything and be in everything". Much better instead to communicate in a real, open and human way.

What you "say" should match what you "do"
Words without matching action are worse than no words at all. You cannot be a leader if you cannot lead by example. Actions speak louder than words. For example, if you promise to do something by a set time, always deliver. At the least, if you cannot deliver explain what has changed and therefore means you cannot deliver as expected - it is worth going out of your way to get this understood. Failure to live up to your promises is a signal to others that they don't need to either.