photo on of Ted Malley of Ceridian

Ted Malley, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Contributor and Executive Vice President and Chief Customer Officer at Ceridian

That line has been used by Hollywood writers for years to kick off an argument between two characters, to the point that it’s become a cliché. But, like most clichés, it’s based on some truth.  Tone, word choice, body language adds to the actual information of a conversation.  That’s no different in the business world than in a romantic comedy.

A Gallup report showed that managers account for at least 70% of variance in employee engagement scores and that regular interaction is a prime engagement driver as well.  So regular manager/employee interaction yields higher engagement. Simple. But there is one problem.

Many managers don’t communicate well with their employees.

A Harris Poll survey revealed that 69% of managers are often uneasy about communicating with employees.  Why? Communicating is something we all do, every day, since we were born. What is it about communicating to employees that makes us uneasy?

One issue is the complexity of communication and the number of variables in styles, motivations, and meanings.  For example, in a simple talk between manager and employee about a project, there can be many challenges, including:

  • The manager prefers giving spoken directions; the employee likes written goals
  • The manager is just focused on the project; the employee is thinking about how the project’s result impacts their performance review
  • The manager likes to use analogies; the employee wants straight forward statements
  • The manager sticks to business; the employee prefers to work personal aspects into business conversations

Given that only 7% of communication is verbal (a widely accepted rule), the challenges for managers trying to communicate complex messages, while maintaining good working relationships with employees is daunting; especially when managers need to communicate potentially sensitive information, like a performance review.

The Evolution of Communications Tools for Managers

Tools and processes have slowly evolved to help managers be more effective in communicating performance-related information with employees. Originally, tools focused on improving the year-end review process.  Feedback writing assistants, peer and 360 reviews were all geared to help managers provide clear, balanced, and well-written feedback.

With best practices driving communications about performance to be year-round, these basic tools aren’t sufficient; managers need help in being more effective team builders and communicators every day, using one-on-one communications skills to extract feedback and provide sometimes subtle guidance in a way that individual team members will best be able to consume. Michael Hyatt points out a number of tools that help managers understand their employees’ communication styles, individual strengths, and even their core convictions.

Looking at the Big Picture

Year-round communications, activities need to be targeted at looking at how, why, and when managers and employees communicate.

Communications focused managers should be looking to:

  • Achieve a clear understanding of employees’ (and managers’) communication styles
  • Use engagement as a barometer that is based on how employees actually feel
  • Create a picture of how individual employees relate to each other
  • Drive day-to-day interaction while keeping track of what happens
  • Measure their success in connecting with their employees

The best managers of the next 10 years will be the ones that implement the how, what, and why with regards to employee communication.  Some will be naturals at it, and some will require help from their management, peers, and direct reports.  Others will require help from tools; if they aren’t using them now, they will be — and, when they do get these new tools, they need to be available on their smart phones.

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