David Grossman is the founder and CEO of the Chicago-based communications consultancy The Grossman Group and the author of “You Can’t NOT Communicate 2.” I interviewed him about how managers can improve their communication efforts.
How can business leaders best evaluate their communication efforts and identify areas that require improvement?
Most organizations already have data that leaders can use to understand the current state of communication such as an engagement survey or communication climate survey. This data is often available by a leader or work group and will provide facts and insights for areas of improvement.
That said, if leaders don’t have data, they can get valuable information by asking their employees essential questions: What’s working well? What can be better?
They can gather these answers themselves or, ideally, work through a neutral third party. It’s also important to ask about the one or two things that employees believe — if improved — would make a significant difference for the team and its ability to achieve business results.
Business leaders need to listen to their key audiences to determine how their communications are being received, understood and acted on (if at all). This can span the spectrum from simply listening to the questions employees have after a presentation (Are they forward-looking, or are they asking you to go over again the material you just covered?); to outright asking individuals how they perceive your communications efforts; or to a more formal survey that gives you quantitative data with which to make decisions about your communications efforts.
In your book, you talk about the influx of Millennials (those born between 1981 and 2000) into the workforce. What’s the most important step business leaders can take to communicate effectively with this generation?
If a leader understands what’s most important to a Millennial, what their information needs and preferences are, what their typical work styles are, what’s influenced them throughout their lives, etc., then that leader will be able to shape communications more effectively to reach them in ways that help everyone accomplish objectives.
It’s also important that business leaders tell it straight. Opening an honest communication builds a foundation of trust among Millennials with leadership — which is key to keeping them engaged with the organization and its messages.
In some cases, Millennials haven’t learned how to interact with others (unless it’s via text message!), and they need some guidance in the right ways to communicate with others. But really, is this so different from any generation that’s new to the workplace?
And one final note that I think really is very different — and important — when it comes to Millennials: You need to be aware not only of content, but also of channel and format. They are the generation of short, sound-bite communications (think of text messages), and efficient, effective communications are far more likely to hit home.
What is the most common communication mistake you see managers make with their employees, and how can they correct it?
Managers are asked to communicate so many different things — overall business strategy, more functional/department/initiative strategy, specific job instructions, performance reports, etc. — that meaning can get lost amid the information overload. Managers then think that if they communicated the message, their job is done and the employee heard it and understood it. That’s not often the case. Managers drop the ball when they don’t check for understanding.
Another trap is that all too often managers wait to communicate until they have all the answers. As much as we’d like, we’ll never have all the answers; instead, it’s important that managers share what they know — and what they don’t know just yet — so their teams feel informed.
At a time when business communication is increasingly going electronic, you advocate face-to-face communication. What advice would you give a manager preparing to talk to an employee about a sensitive issue?
Always go into a conversation, especially a sensitive one, with your outcome in mind. What does the manager want to happen as a result of that conversation taking place? He or she can then structure the discussion to best reach that optimal conclusion.
It doesn’t always happen perfectly, though, so managers need to plan accordingly, understanding the mindset of the employee and how to recalibrate messages to account for the employee’s reaction. It never hurts to role play (ideally with someone else, but at the very least, go over the conversation in your head) to try and come up with all possible reactions.
Above all, treating the employee with respect and having his or her best interest in mind will go a long way in helping turn a challenging conversation about a sensitive issue into trust-building interaction. Just by taking the time to meet with an employee face-to-face shows you respect him or her, and that you care about the outcome and his or her success.
Image courtesy of Channel V Media.