The most common complaint I hear in companies of every size and type is that the communication stinks. I’ve conducted employee involvement surveys for over a hundred companies, held several hundred employee exit interviews, mediated employee- manager disputes and listened to way too many employees complain about how bad the communication is at their company. Why is that; after all don’t we have high speed internet and intranet, blogs, annual reports, annual performance reviews, company newsletters, E-mail, instant messaging and a host of other tools to drive the communication process? Yes we do, but yes the communication still often stinks!
People need to talk to each other, face to face, person to person, voice to voice, feeling to feeling. We need to share what is really going on in our lives. We need to ask the question “how are you?” and really want to hear the answer no matter how long and involved it is. We need to share the truth not just what we think someone wants to or needs to hear. We must desire to communicate.
Communication isn’t simply telling; it isn’t one sided or one way. Communication is two-way information sharing. Honest communication is sharing and hearing (not just listening) to both the good and bad messages and then acknowledging in some way that what was said was heard and understood, not necessarily agreed with but at least comprehended.
Whenever I hear from an employee something to the affect of “my boss never communicates with me” I always ask the employee if they have ever communicated with the boss. The response is most often, “no, that’s not my responsibility, he / she is the boss, and they need to communicate with me.” I encourage managers whenever possible to hold regularly scheduled weekly meetings with each employee with whom they directly supervise. Meetings may last ten minutes or two hours but agendas should be developed to provide a give-and-take sharing of information and the weekly meetings should be a priority. If this one-on-one communication isn’t initiated by the manager I encourage employees to “manage up” and request this opportunity and if necessary take control of the meeting.
This time of year many companies conduct annual employee performance reviews and unfortunately for many managers this is the only time an employee’s performance is discussed. Don’t get me wrong, formal reviews need to be held, performance documented, goals set and records maintained, but the comments shared at these reviews should come to no surprise to the employee. Effective performance communication is on-going, is both formal and informal, and is both rewarding good performance and identifying and discussing less than satisfactory performance. The annual review should simply be the document that holds the complete tally of all those regular performance communications held throughout the year.
Delivering bad news is much more difficult than sharing good news and for that reason many managers gloss over performance problems and give satisfactory performance reviews. This isn’t being fair to the employee or the Company. On many occasion I have met with managers who wanted to terminate an employee for poor performance and upon review of the employee’s past performance reviews saw years of average or above average performance documented. In most cases, performance doesn’t change that drasticly, especially with proper communication practices. So by not developing truthful or accurate reviews that may be negative and hard to deliver the supervisor has reduced the strength of their case for supporting the termination decision.
Regular, honest and two-way communication practiced at home and in the workplace is the cornerstone to successful, fulfilling relationships so just get out there and talk!