As an employee productivity expert, I often start the consulting process to improve a client company by interviewing lots of the key employees. By key employees, I mean anyone I think can help us get an accurate assessment of what is really working and not working at the company. I always talk to a few ‘mover and shaker’ types; some new employees; some long-term employees and of course, to any malcontents. Why malcontents? They usually have some useful information once you get past their complaining. Perhaps they are complaining for good reason or perhaps they are just because they are complainers. I still want to hear it regardless.
Anyone can sway your conclusions if you let them. The key is to ask the same basic questions to everyone and to count the number of repetitive responses you get. I rarely put any credibility into any one answer. I am looking for consistency and trends – things that will prove useful to helping the company.
I always start with a basic list of questions that normally prove useful and then review the questions with the executives that hired us. This does two things. First it reassures the executive that I am not going to ask any inappropriate questions. Second, it allows the executives to modify the questions. Usually, they change the questions to make them more specific and pointed.
Next I interview the employees. Ask questions and take notes. I build trust and assure the employees that I am not going to reveal anyone’s names along with the answers. This will allow the employees to speak freely. Without asking any questions about communication, we still get a lot of comments about communication. I do ask some generic questions like “what do we as a company need to do better?” This where we normally get the answer: “we don’t communicate enough.” Oddly, this is the number 1 answer or complaint that we get consistently amongst most all client companies.
When we report this answer back to the top executives “we don’t communicate enough,” the executives usually become very frustrated, even irritated. They say they don’t understand how so many employees could say this, because as executives they are overwhelmed with communication. They have too many emails, too many meetings, and too much of everything.
The truth is that most all employees are experiencing lots of communication too. The other truth is that the executives are trying to communicate or at least not trying to hold back most communication. The problem is the executives are too busy to do a good job communicating with the rest of the organization. The other problem is the perceptions that employees are not receiving the right communication. They don’t feel like they are ‘in on things.’ Even if they are really getting the necessary information, the issue of their “perception” of not being in on things is a problem. It is hard to build a consensus culture with everyone focused on the company strategy when a lot of the employees feel left out of the communication loop.
So what is the solution? After the executives discuss this answer and come to realize that we all need to do a better job communicating – they agree that improving the feedback loop to all employees in general will improve real communication and the perception of communication. There are various ways executives can do this. Some options include:
- Direct face to face meetings with different groups
- Town hall meetings with everyone
- A newsletter
- A memo
- Emails to all
Regardless of the method selected, the executives in charge of communication to the troops must do it on a regular basis, such as weekly, monthly or quarterly. Now that you know ‘how’ and ‘when,’ the only question left is what you will communicate to the employees. If we communicate the wrong thing or watered down messages, the employees will still have the perception that ‘we don’t communicate enough.’ I can give you my suggested answers on what to communcate, but there is a more accurate answer. The executives should go and interview 7 to 10 employees and let them tell you what they would like communicated on a regular basis.
You will hear such answers like:
- Be honest about the truth of the State of the Company
- Tell us what we really face in the near future
- What is working
- What is not working
- Where do we stand in the market place
If you get these answers from the employees and then regularly communicate this information back to the employees, you will find two amazing things:
- More employees will support and contribute to the company’s strategy, and;
- Communication will no longer be the #1 complaint.