Posted by Sandy Yu on 10.11.2018
“Hello, Dr. Sharkey! I’m the CEO of a mid-sized marketing firm. Every one of my employees deals with various projects at one time and is extremely busy. Recently, I’ve received feedback from our weekly employee polls that employees actually want to communicate more with managers and company leaders. How can I -- and our company’s managers -- communicate with employees in a meaningful and authentic manner without monopolizing too much of their already busy work schedules?”
Employees always want to hear from their immediate managers about their performance and what they need continue building upon -- or stop doing altogether. This helps guide them through the workday and shows they are noticed and valued.
For leaders and managers, the hard part is communicating in a meaningful way. Talking just to talk is a waste of time.
The key to making the most of communication is using a series of engaging questions. Focus on asking and discussing, not telling and teaching. Peter Drucker, the late, great leadership guru appropriately said, “The leader of the past told, the leader of the future asks.”
Hold quick meetings on a regular schedule and have employees to prepare questions in advance. It also helps to ask what is on employees’ minds, what’s working, and what challenges they're facing.
People will be reluctant at first, until they realize you're truly interested in their ideas and opinions. If you listen and only respond when necessary, you’ll learn a lot. I recommend the ALTTRR model:
When leaders learn employees want more communication, they assume this means hearing more from the leaders themselves. But that’s not necessarily the case.
Communication is a two-way street, and it starts with you asking the right questions. Focus on queries that will provide important and specific insights. For example, if you just ask employees "How are you?” they’ll probably respond by only saying "fine."
When your questions are more focused, however, it opens the door for a more productive conversation. Ask questions like “What do you think of the new software?” or “Which tasks do you feel eat up too much time?”
These catered questions will show employees you truly want their opinions.
There’s nothing worse than a leader who says they value employee input but never actually listens. When employees answer your questions, listen and find ways to show you’ve understood what they have to say.
This means doing more than nodding and making eye contact. Ask for clarification if necessary. When the individual has made a point, paraphrase it back to them to make sure you’re on the same page.
It doesn’t matter how hands-on your leadership style is. There will always be a distance between you and your employees. This means that a lot of what they say will surprise you. But it’s important not to react in the moment. Take time to process all the information and how it fits into the bigger picture.
Each leader will have their own method for digesting feedback and input. Some people need to take alone time after a meeting to jot down what they heard and their thoughts. Others need to put the information out of their mind for a while and come back to analyze it later.
Try various methods, and find what works for you.
It’s not easy for employees to open up to their boss. There’s always a worry that they’ll overstep or offend. Quell this fear by thanking employees for their input.
Immediately after the conversation, shake their hand and say thank you. Then, whenever you’re revisiting the discussed topic in a team meeting, take a moment to once again show your appreciation for everyone’s input. Let them know how what they said has led to changes.
Remember, there are two ways to respond: words and actions. Both are important for the employee experience. What you say after a feedback discussion will show employees that you’ve really taken their input to heart. But there also needs to be accompanying changes.
For example, say your employees shared that they weren’t happy with the company health insurance options. An active response would be to create an advisory team -- made up of leaders and employees -- to research and find a better alternative. This will show that you’re not just throwing what they say out the window.
Great communication needs to be a habit. And like any skill, the more you practice this communication model, the better you and your team will get at it. Constantly reaching out to your team ensures that new input and ideas are always pushing the company forward.
Dr. Linda Sharkey is a best-selling author and in-demand speaker and coach. She is dedicated to helping businesses prepare for the future and developing leaders and teams to support company growth.