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Build a Climate of Open Communication and Employee Engagement

Communication Articles

Leaders are role models, trendsetters, visionaries and voices for change within their organizations. Change is everywhere, and today, there is constant babble about what should be done to improve an organization. But the message is unclear. Employees often don’t know why a change is being implemented and how their jobs contribute to the intended result.

Employees want to know the answer to the question, “Why should I care?” They want to know from leaders what the plan is and what the outcome will be.

Most employees rarely learn the reasons for major change initiatives from the top of the organization, and they are not often asked for their input or involvement. Thus, major change becomes disruptive.

The culture becomes cold and unproductive.

Managers should share the organizational vision and explain each employee’s role in the company’s future. If leaders don’t communicate, it shows employees that they don’t care about them and that the employees are not a priority. In addition, many leaders are only interested in communicating operational or financial information to employees. Employees become frustrated with leaders who don’t listen to them.

At this point, leaders lose their credibility.

Fostering an Engaged Culture With Communication

Curt Coffman, co-author of First, Break All The Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently and Follow This Path: How the World’s Greatest Organizations Drive Growth by Unleashing Human Potential, said that when an employee first joins a company they are highly engaged. The first year with an organization is often their best.

Too many times, the jubilation doesn’t last. Employees can become unengaged (wait-and-see attitudes, which are neither positive nor negative) or actively disengaged (against everything and sharing unhappiness with others every day). Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees — the least productive — cost the American economy up to $350 billion a year in lost productivity.

Engaged employees consistently perform at high levels, and these are the employees organizations need to keep. To retain this winning talent, organizations must have strong managers capable of building relationships and able to construct clear communication. Furthermore, organizations must be clear about what they expect and ensure that managers or supervisors care about their employees.

How They Do It: Communication Lessons From Leaders

Former U.S. Secretary Colin Powell said, “Optimism is a force multiplier.” Leaders should communicate to employees that things can change with outstanding results and that the company will be the best in class.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz likes coffee, of course, but he’s also passionate about creating a workplace that treats people with dignity and respect.

Microsoft’s leaders created a forum for sharing internal and external communication plans across the business to build a “one-company” approach that preserves the integrity of individual division plans where they are relevant to separate audiences but also enables employees to identify connection points between plans. Through the use of its communication technologies, Microsoft uses a “storytelling” framework that cuts through babble and clutter. Company leaders practice constructing messages that are respectful, essential, professional and unambiguous.

Cisco doesn’t describe itself in technical terms; instead, leaders communicate the company as one that changes the way people live, work, play and learn. Employees want to become part of the bigger picture by contributing to the company. Cisco’s leaders craft and deliver the company’s vision in messages that are concise and specific and that draw on emotions.

One leader at Google holds office hours where anyone can sign up for time to provide feedback on topics or projects.

The Ritz-Carlton holds daily staff meetings where leaders share stories of employees’ outstanding service. This is motivational for employees, and creates a positive attitude throughout the workplace.

Delivering on the Communication Promise

Employees are motivated indirectly through leadership and communication. However, research shows that less than half of employees are typically satisfied with communication from senior leaders.

“Leaders strategically use communication to produce enthusiasm and foster an atmosphere of open exchange and support,” said James A. Trinka, Ph.D., chief learning officer at the FBI. “They are adept at energizing people to see pathways that get to goals-despite challenging conditions.”

Leaders must learn skills to present themselves as principals who communicate well. The following are characteristics of leaders who communicate and deliver effectively:

  • Communicate with transparency to show employees they are valued. When you communicate with open lines of dialogue, employees know they are appreciated.
  • Deliver praise and provide feedback.
  • Be honest. Talk straight. If something is critical, like quality, then say it.
  • Be respectful. Don’t talk down to employees. Treat them like adults.
  • Listen to employee feedback without being reactive.
  • Be open. Even during times of crisis, tell employees what they need to know.
  • Be timely. Employees shouldn’t be the last to know about a change or major company issue or announcement.

Harvard professor John Kotter, said, “First, help the group establish some sensible direction…Second, great leaders are all good at getting relevant partners align with, buying into, and believing in the direction they have set…Third, is the ability to create conditions that energize and inspire people to get off their fannies.”

Vital Learning’s Essential Skills of Communicating™ can help organizations build a successful culture, ensuring that managers understand the two-way communication process. During this program, leaders learn the following:
Design clear, concise and interesting messages
Manage nonverbal behaviors to reinforce the message
Listen actively to employees
Create a climate of open communication for greater employee motivation and engagement

Essential Skills of Communicating is a trademark of Vital Learning.

Used by permission via Vital Learning.
Melodae Morris
Leadership Matters

Melodae Morris is the founder of Morris Communications. Morris is a media writing and magazine editing instructor and course designer for the University of Nebraska at Omaha.


Essential Skills of Communicating (2010). Vital Learning Corporation
Galo, C. Communicating More Effectively with Employees.
Gray, R. (Nov./Dec. 2004). How to get your CEO talking (productively) with employees.
Love, M. (Dec. 2009). Managing communication and reducing overload in a matrix organization. Mintrue.
Sanford, B. (2003). Building a Highly Engaged Workforce. Gallup Management Journal.
Smith, P. (April 2004). The Essence of Leadership.
Trinka, J. Action Plan to Achieve Breakthrough Improvement in Employee Productivity and Leadership Effectiveness.

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