When asked, “What’s the most common employee feedback you see on engagement surveys?” we don’t have to look at the data or even think twice when answering.
“Better leadership communication,” or some version thereof is what employees of all types and from every industry seek from their organisations’ leadership. “Better communication” can be a real struggle for many leaders, however, which is likely why it’s perennially at the top of employees’ wish lists.
Upon seeing this feedback in their survey results, many well-intentioned leaders’ first instincts are to go back to their employees and invite them to offer suggestions for improvement. While normally I would applaud this instinct, in this case, I’d caution against it, and here’s why.
Employees may not recognise “good” communication (but they can recognise “bad”)
Several years ago I was a member of another leadership team in this precise situation – we had resounding feedback that improvement to the communication from the leadership team was needed. We turned around and asked our employees what changes they wanted to see to the communication approach. The volume of answers dropped from a flood to a trickle, and the commentary was vague and not terribly illuminating. I distinctly recall the disappointment in the room when we reviewed the results of this second round of feedback, which in a nutshell, said “more frequent,” and “better.”
It wasn’t until we had several issues of an admittedly not very good internal newsletter produced by an outside PR consultant in circulation that we revisited the issue in a quarterly meeting of all managers. This time, we got some useful suggestions. Stop with the puff pieces, they advised us. Give us substance. Tell us about future plans. Lean into the results. Brief us on upcoming projects, and provide some context about why those projects were selected.
We took the advice and started providing an edited version of the business updates we provided to our parent company, stripping out details that needed to remain confidential and trimming out some of the minutiae, but keeping the message focused on the same brass tacks that were shared with the execs in the head office, and the results were noticeable.
Treat your team like stakeholders, they will think like stakeholders
When we started treating our entire staff – from the contact center team on the front lines to the software developers shaping the future of the industry (and everyone in between) – like serious stakeholders, guess what – they started to think like serious stakeholders. In short, they saw the big picture.
The numeric goals set for each team had new context. People started to understand the importance of providing clients with self-service options for simple requests when they saw that service teams were handling more of the complex, “Level 2” customer calls in the same amount of time because the routine requests had been automated. The whole company started to think about the customer experience because the KPIs we shared allowed them to see the improvements their efforts had delivered. Rumors about management wanting to automate everything and lay off employees nearly disappeared. That, as they say, was a result.
Aligning messages with the core drivers of employee engagement
Now that I’ve spent the better part of two years immersed in the realm of employee engagement, I can describe why this approach worked so well: we were communicating with employees about the very things they cared about most – namely, the core elements of employee engagement. In particular, we were providing a clear picture, in a way a simple newsletter never could, of how the enterprise was managing the double-digit growth of its user base, to reduce the workload of the service team.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so goes the old saying. The corporate corollary is “Meaning is in the perception of the audience.” It’s worth keeping the perspective of individual employees in mind because everyone reads corporate messages through the lens of “so what does this mean for me?”
This is why using key elements of employee engagement as a framework for improving your organisation’s communication is so powerful, because doing so ensures messages will be aligned with the things your employees really care about. Some of the engagement drivers that mesh beautifully with leadership communication subjects include:
- Feeling connected to the company’s strategy and direction
- Having a clear understanding of one’s role and responsibilities
- Receiving recognition for individuals’ contributions and successes
- The opportunity to develop professionally and advance one’s career
- An environment in which employees have an authentic voice
- A sense of purpose and belonging, and contributing to the good of the community.
Here are some ideas for using engagement elements as a framework for improving leadership communication:
Connect employees to strategy and understand how their roles contribute
Engagement elements: Feeling connected to the company’s strategy and direction, and having a clear understanding of how their role contributes, provide clarity and context that lay the groundwork for engagement. As a bonus, employees will have additional clarity about the “whys” behind their individual responsibilities.
When you share the high-level strategy and keep the entire team updated on progress, you’ll provide them with important context and direction, and help everyone better understand how their role fits in and contributes to the organisation’s success. Chances are good you’ll also boost the team’s energy and enthusiasm, and you may also notice the scores for “The Company” improve as a result.
Taking it a step further, and sharing major initiatives, key goals, and KPIs at the beginning of the year, and then providing monthly or quarterly updates, will not only keep the goals and KPIs top of mind for the team but invest them in the wider success of the organisation.
Information to include:
- High-level corporate strategy
- Strategic initiatives
- Annual goals and KPIs
- Monthly or quarterly updates of progress against goals
Recognising contributions and successes, and ensuring people feel valued
Engagement elements: Recognising key contributions and successes – especially those that are behind the scenes – makes people feel valued and appreciated, and increases everyone’s understanding of the business.
While everyone usually knows who the top-performing sales representatives in an organisation are, can the same be said for the service representatives who resolve the most customer issues? Or the account managers with the lowest attrition rates? Or the software developer whose elegant code improved the customer experience? Or the analyst whose diligent work found new opportunities? Not feeling valued is a primary reason why people leave their jobs. Ensure against that by seeking out and recognising strong performance throughout the enterprise.
Information to include:
- Individual successes throughout the organisation
- Meaningful contributions and behind-the-scenes stories
- Highlight team or project efforts and outcomes
The opportunity to develop professionally and advance one’s career
Engagement elements: The opportunity for professional development and career growth is a primary driver of employee engagement and, for that matter, retention. Relaying news of internal hires, promotions, and job openings, and highlighting the work of cross-functional teams will help illuminate possibilities for employees, and also demonstrate the organisation’s commitment to developing advancement opportunities for their people.
In a tight labor market, turning to one’s own employees as a source of talent is important: upskilling employees to do more sophisticated work allows the organisation to capitalise on its existing talent, and concentrate recruitment efforts on less-specialised and easier to find talent.
Information to provide:
- Internal hires
- Job openings
- Cross-functional team and project updates
An environment in which employees have an authentic voice
Engagement elements: Responding to survey results and employee feedback is a crucial component of building employee engagement: when leaders respond, employees know they’ve been heard. Being heard and feeling one’s opinion matters is a powerful generator of employee engagement, enabling people to feel they are true stakeholders.
However, not every environment enables employees to act with authenticity and confidence. For this reason, we believe that anonymity is crucial, and the safe space it creates ensures employees feel confident being candid.
Information to include: In addition to providing the organisation’s engagement score, we also recommend sharing noteworthy feedback received from employees, and also providing insight into the actions leaders plan to take over the next quarter.
- Respond to employee feedback via SecureFollow Up
- Share noteworthy employee ideas and feedback with the whole team
- Provide updates and outcomes of actions and initiatives taken as a result of employee feedback
A sense of purpose and belonging, and contributing to the good of the community
Purposeful work is incredibly important to employees of all levels, according to significant research by McKinsey, which found that 89% of employees surveyed want purpose in their lives, and fully 70% said they rely upon their work for that purpose. In organisations in which feelings of purpose and belonging are lacking, employees are less engaged, and turnover is more likely.
Connecting people to the organisation’s purpose is a powerful way to create a strong sense of belonging to something bigger.
Information to include:
- Tabulate and consistently share outcomes and KPIs related to the purpose,
- Highlight how individual employees’ work contributes to the larger purpose,
- Ensure purpose is present in all leadership communication.
Two things guaranteed to immediately improve leadership communication: commitment and consistency
Simply starting small, telling your employees you’ve heard them, and providing a digest of updates is all you need to do to get going. Worry less about being perfect, and concentrate on committing to treating employees like the important stakeholders they are, and be consistent in your communication. Committing to communicating consistently is the first step, and will immediately improve your organisation’s leadership communication.
The task of gathering information to share can also be made easier by delegating elements to the people who handle your reporting, as well as departmental heads.
- Ask those responsible for producing monthly and quarterly reports to add a summary for employees to their output
- When you hear a noteworthy contribution or result during the course of business, note it for inclusion in your next communication, you may find the message almost writes itself
- When discussing results with department heads, ask them to highlight significant employee contributions
By relentlessly challenging yourself and your team to concentrate on ensuring employees have a clear view of the strategy, can see how their work fits in, understand growth opportunities, believe they are valued and their voices are heard and feel a sense of purpose, you’ll find the efforts you put into communicating with the team pay off: your team will be aligned, energised and engaged.