In my last blog I expounded some of my thoughts on the links between internal communication and employee engagement – and how they were indeed linked but were in no way synonymous. 

This time I have some further thoughts on these two subjects – and the dangers posed to the latter by the former not being done properly.

Some time ago I was working with local management in a big department on their engagement levels. The engagement levels weren’t where they could or should have been, and we were mining the data to make sense of things.

One area which caused the leadership team much consternation were the feelings of people in the department about communications. “We do communicate,” they said. “We do it all the time.”

Well the data didn’t agree, with scores on the employee survey on the quality, frequency etc of communication being pretty poor. I had a look at this, and at the verbatim comments on this area, and also reviewed what had happened in the months leading up to the survey.

To be fair, there had been activity of a communicational nature. Blogs had been published. Headlines had been loaded onto intranets. Briefing documents had been issued to managers and these, in turn, had been passed onto the people in the department. Information, in short, had been given to people.

What had not happened, however, was any communication. There had been a one-way, top-down attempt to send information, but there had not been any attempt to test understanding of the information. 

No matter how well crafted a blog, no matter how expertly drafted an intranet article, there is no guarantee that when it is read it will be understood in the way that was originally intended.

An example – no names, no pack drill. I recall reading a blog by a chief exec which told that a member of the senior management team was recovering after a serious illness and had managed a few holes of golf. In the context he intended, this was a good news story about a generally popular member of the organisation getting better. 

I spoke to a member of staff about the blog who said something along the lines of “I can just imagine what my boss would say if I played golf when I was on sick leave…”

In other words, what was intended in terms of understanding wasn’t what landed – there had been a failure to communicate.

Going back to our local management team: I spoke to staff in the area, to try and get a deeper understanding of the issues. Briefings, which were intended by the internal comms team to be shared at a team meeting with a Q&A session at the end tended to be emailed out to teams. Further investigation showed a real lack of confidence among line managers to deliver the briefings, so they just weren’t delivering what they were intended to do.

Likewise, whenever staff had responded to issues raised in the blogs or intranet headlines, there had been no acknowledgement, let alone response, and people pretty quickly gave up trying to give feedback.

The solution? Some training sessions for line managers on leading discussions, some high-visibility responses to questions raised on the intranet, and kicking off some sessions with senior managers where they sat down with people and had a discussion about the business, how they were contributing to the success and what issues people had on the shop floor.

Nothing too demanding or too difficult, but ultimately transformational in terms of how communication was perceived in this part of the business, and this, in turn, contributed toward improved levels of engagement.

To sum up:

  • Top-down information transmission is not communication
  • Communication is always two-way
  • Once you’ve given information out, you need to check understanding
  • Don’t assume what you mean is what people will get

So, have a think about how you communicate in your business. How do you make it two-way? What feedback loops have you put in place? How do receivers of information become transmitters? How do you help leaders listen? Have a think.

 

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