5 golden rules for communication that really works

Purple your People author Jane Sunley reveals her five immutable rules for great communication


Research, including our own learnpurple findings, constantly shows communication as the top motivator for people. Employees say they wanted to be involved and consulted, not just on the receiving end of ‘telling’ – two-way ongoing communication. Doesn’t sound that hard does it?

However, year-on-year our annual talent toolbox benchmarking survey (which takes the appraisal / engagement data from tens of thousands of employees across 22 countries) shows communication as a top three required company improvement as perceived by the employee. Why? Because very few organisations get it right, and even when an issue has been highlighted, many fail to resolve in the best possible way.

It’s not that communicating effectively is difficult; it simply takes time and effort to implement the right things consistently – hence why organisations are often put off investing in it at the required level. Getting it right however, can have a substantial impact on motivation, performance, productivity and thus profitability and should therefore move up the priority list. Here’s what you need to know:

1. Take a big picture approach

Gone are the days where employees were happy to receive a short annual appraisal and very little else. People nowadays expect to be treated with respect and to have a voice with which they can influence their own progress and environment. Our big picture take on this is for managers and leaders to stop making decisions behind closed office doors and start valuing their people enough to keep them in the loop. So instead of sitting in a stuffy boardroom making decisions, doing some telling and hoping it eventually reaches those on the floor; we believe leaders should consult and involve people from the bottom up. They will let you know what’s going on, how they would tackle the challenges and will be much more open to buying into change.

2. You don’t employ children

A lot of communication issues lie around the relationship between employer and employee. You employ grown-ups who have mortgages, relationships, children, and out of work responsibilities, activities and talents like you wouldn’t believe. Get rid of the ‘parent to child’ relationship that many companies still have and start treating your people as they expect to be treated – like adults. Be trusting, respectful, consultative and most of all listen and then act. By taking an adult-to-adult stance you’ll discover many positives.

3. Planning is necessary

With organisations now so open to exposure through the likes of the internet and social media, it’s even more important to plan communications, especially difficult ones, carefully. We’d suggest the following:

  • Who: with all communications, be it written or verbal, you must think about the audience; crafting it with them in mind. Use language which they will understand and that matches your culture. Think how best to ‘sell’ what you’re saying, asking or consulting on. Examples and real life stories are a great way to bring things to life, use visualisation to invoke a positive mood. Here also consider who will deliver the communication – make sure it’s the right person for the job.
  • Why: what’s in it for the recipient and / or those involved.
  • What: what the message is about – top line details
  • How: what is the best channel for the message to be delivered and how will it be executed? With difficult communications we’d always recommend face-to-face if appropriate.
  • Style: should it be formal or informal? Clarity is key – what is it you actually want to consult on and/or convey?
  • What if: what do you want to get from the communication? How will this be measured so people know they’re ‘there’?
  • When: timing is absolutely critical – think about the best time to deliver the message. And allow adequate time – if you need to move fast, do it.
  • Actions: the next steps and follow ups
4. Avoid meetings for meetings’ sake

Let’s be honest… Many meetings are unproductive; they go on too long, bore everyone to death or achieve very little. Sometimes there are people who love the sound of their own voice or just like having a rant or chat session. If you do not feel excited at the prospect of a meeting then it’s highly likely the other meeting participants won’t either.

Do something about this by making sure whatever is being communicated and discussed is dynamic. Decide what needs to be covered and the outcomes expected. Put together a timed agenda, have an attendee chair and record action points only – the who, what, when, what if and possibly top-line how (details can be worked out by those who are responsible later).

5. Things have and are changing

Since the world no longer simply communicates by email and verbally; it’s important to consider twitter, Skype, video conferencing, Facebook and so on. As new generations enter the workforce they view things differently  they prefer to be communicated to in different ways – as a simple example the baby boomers are likely to prefer face-to-face interaction; however generations Y and Z have been raised on technology so may prefer text messaging.

Think about your workforce and the various methods you use to communicate. Vary the way you put the same message across – it’s an old adage that you can’t please all the people all the time but you can have a good go by using different styles and methods. Getting communications right, first time, will save a lot of time, resource and hassle later down the line.

Jane Sunley is CEO of talent management specialists learnpurple and author of people bible, Purple your People – the secrets to inspired, happy, more profitable people which can be purchased via http://amzn.to/qn617X. This article is based upon chapter nine.

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