It’s human nature. People want to feel a sense of belonging and self-worth. They want to feel appreciated, needed, and connected to something greater than themselves. Much like misbehaving (discouraged) children who act out in the absence of these feelings, employees who are left wanting for a positive emotional connection with their employer are likely discouraged, and therefore not completely productive.
The modern workplace has been going through extraordinary change, yet the practices of management and leadership seem stagnant. According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, many people in the world hate their job, and especially their boss. In their State of the American Workplace report in February 2017, they stated that 70% of American workers are not engaged on the job. Other Gallup research finds that only about one in four employees “strongly agree” that their manager provides meaningful feedback to them, and only 21% feel that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to excel.
Feeling an emotional connection to the leadership team and finding meaning in the work being done are two critical factors in employee engagement, and engaged employees are more productive. Those who feel a sense of connection with their employer, and feel as if the work they do has significance, are more motivated and want to keep contributing at the highest levels possible.
Here are some strategies to help you change the culture in your organization to one of positive communication, and in turn improve employee engagement, productivity, and performance.
1. Provide Regular Feedback
Feedback is simply a response to an action with the primary purpose of bringing about a change in the recipient’s behavior. Every time we speak or listen to another person; in our tone of voice, in the words we use, and in the silences we allow, we’re communicating feedback at every interaction. So, why not make giving feedback intentional?
If we recognize mistakes as learning opportunities, and respond to them with compassion and understanding, we can more easily focus on solutions, instead of placing blame. When presented in a positive way, feedback is an opportunity to motivate and provide continuous learning. Feedback that is timely and specific helps employees see why their role exists, how they are impacting others in the workplace, what they are currently doing well, and what areas require improvement. Connect feedback to company goals and values, and help employees feel significant.
2. Ask Questions and Listen to the Answers
Even when only assumptive, too often managers tell their staff what happened, what caused it to happen, how they should feel about it, what they should learn from it, and what they should do about it. This approach shuts down communication. Instead, it is much more powerful when we ask what happened, what the employee thinks caused it, how they feel about it, what they learned from it, and how they think they might fix it.
Asking these “what”, “why” and “how” questions, instead of assuming you already know the answer, fosters open communication and development. Managers who already know it all don’t grow, and neither do their employees. Learn to ask questions and to really listen to the answers. And, keep in mind that how you listen can either encourage or discourage further communication and interaction. Focus on what is being said instead of thinking about what you want to say next. Listening is an art, and something that requires mindful attention – and practice.
3. Ask; Don’t Tell
Engaged employees generally feel that they have the autonomy to do their jobs their own way. Presumably, it’s the outcome and not the process, which really matters. People create productivity in different ways. Trusting your employees to get the job done, and to come to you when they need to, goes a long way in establishing open, positive communication.
Employees should not be afraid to try something new as long as they are achieving the desired outcome. Asking, “What is your plan for getting this project completed?” allows for creativity in the process. Telling someone how to operate and then micro-managing them is a formula for high turnover. Providing support and guidance when asked is a sign of a communicative and collaborative leader.
4. Follow Through
Too many people don’t say what they mean, mean what they say, or follow through consistently, leaving their employees (and likely their customers) feeling discouraged. Following through means taking action and keeping your word. Coupled with setting and communicating reasonable expectations, it is a perfect way to avoid power struggles and other barriers to positive communication. It is a natural part of setting your team up for success.
As a simple example, if you say: “We will begin the meeting at 10am sharp,” and people show up at 10:05; they have missed the first five minutes of the meeting because you started on time. No further comments are necessary. It is unlikely they will be late for the next meeting. Those who did show up on time will likely feel encouraged and respected, as you demonstrated that you respected them through your actions. You decided what you were going to do (starting at 10) and you did it.
When people have guidelines within which to operate, and they feel like you will stay true to your word, they are actually more empowered to take initiative.
5. Empower; Don’t Enable
There is a significant difference between empowering your employees and enabling your employees. Empowering your employees to do and be their best will help create the long term results you need to drive your business forward. Enabling them, even though you believe you are helping, can actually cause your employees to feel as if you do not trust in their capabilities, and will ultimately have a detrimental effect.
Instead, work together with your staff in developing project plans, listen to their opinions and concerns, include them in the decision-making process whenever possible, and let them do their jobs. This creates an environment where employees feel supported and trusted. They know that it is safe to take risks, and more-often-than-not rise to greatness as a result.
Modeling empowering behavior can go a long way. Demonstrating that you have faith in your staff to know what to do, figure things out, and ask for help when they need it is an important step on the road to creating a high performance culture. Listening and acknowledging feelings and frustrations without fixing or judging is a great way to empower your employees to rely on themselves and lean on each other to get things accomplished. Establishing and communicating expected outcomes by agreeing on a plan, rather than setting “rules” will help foster an empowering environment with teams who are highly focused on their goals.
6. Focus on Strengths
When providing performance feedback, build on what’s good rather than focus on what someone does not do well. Leverage people’s strengths, and help them become even stronger, rather than dwell in the often unrequited effort of trying to make someone into someone they are not. Pulling together disparate parts of teams, and helping them work well together to accomplish a common goal is a way to foster innovation. It can help you bridge gaps and hold people accountable while letting them keep their self-respect, thereby improving employee engagement.
Many organizations know that they have a serious problem with performance management, communication, and employee engagement. One big step that companies are taking now is to place far greater importance on more frequent, ongoing, positive performance-based conversations. A few simple adjustments to how you interact with your colleagues, supervisors, and subordinates will help you create and retain a successful organization based on trust, cooperation and collaboration.
Want to improve your communications skills as a leader? Join my colleagues and I for an intensive, interactive leadership series brought to you by Accountex USA, in collaboration with the team at SUM Innovation, on Thursday, September 7, 2017. As part of Accountex 2017, this day-long program is designed to help emerging leaders in small to medium-sized accounting and bookkeeping practices transform their firm, shift the culture, embrace technology, and influence others. Learn more at accountexusa.com/emerging-leaders/