Streetwise: Closing the Leadership-Staff Communication Gap
From our friends at Eure Consulting:
Leaders in a company slowly start to move farther and farther away from frontline employees as a company grows. This can create a gap in communication between the two groups. What once was easy, because you interacted with every employee every day, now has to become an intentional exercise.
Without addressing this breakdown in communication, a company can grind to a halt. People start to point fingers and place blame. They argue more than they collaborate and conflict and tension rule the day.
As the CEO, it is your job to make sure that information is easily shared and digested.
The most important information that you need to make sure you share is your company’s vision, mission, and values.
Your company’s vision, mission, and values are what make your company unique. These three elements define who your company is and why you exist in the world. Without an understanding of these important tenets, your employees won’t know where they’re going, why they’re going there, or how they’re supposed to act on the way.
Your vision lays out where you’re going. I’ve written multiple times (here, here) about the importance of providing your employees with a clear vision. The bottom line is, you need to create a crystal clear picture of where you’re company is going to be in 5 or 10 years so that your employees can start helping you get there. They will feel a greater sense of accomplishment at the end of each day knowing that they helped move your company towards your goal. Plus, a clear vision gets everyone to row in the same direction.
Your mission gives your employees a greater sense of purpose (see here for more information on the importance of purpose). It helps them buy in to what you’re working to accomplish. No matter how big or small, everyone wants to know that they are making an impact on this world in some way. Clearly defining your company’s mission lays out for your staff the impact that they’re making. And it lets them know that they are contributing to something bigger than themselves.
Your values define how you do the work you do (here, here). They lay out how you conduct business and clearly define the behavior that you expect from each of your employees. You can think of these values like the bumper rails on the sides of a bowling lane. When the bowling ball starts to veer off target, the bumpers gently guide it back onto the correct path. That’s exactly what your core values accomplish for your employees. They define how you expect each and every employee to act. And when they act inappropriately, you can point to the core values to steer them back on track.
You need to share these three areas not only once but endlessly. You should be repeating them so often that you are getting sick of hearing yourself say them.
On average, people do not start really retaining what you tell them until the seventh (7th!) time you’ve told them.
An easy way to continue that messaging on an ongoing basis is by holding quarterly state of the company meetings. You can use these meetings to repeat your vision, mission, and values and truly instill them in every employee. You can also use this quarterly meeting to refocus everyone on the company’s top priorities.
It’s human nature to get distracted and sidetracked over the course of a quarter. Your once energized and eager staff has become run down by the whirlwind of the daily grind. Take a moment to help them come up for air and get them excited about what they’re doing again. They’ll leave the meeting invigorated, motivated, and, most importantly, aligned.
For any decisions, changes, or information that can’t wait until the quarterly meeting for you to share them, you’ll need to create a system of cascading communication. Cascading information works like this: The leadership team makes a decision that everyone should know about. They decide on the exact messaging they’d like to share so that they are all sharing the same information. Then they go and share it with their direct reports. Their direct reports then share it with their direct reports. And so on and so forth until everyone at the company has received the message.
There are many different methods you can use to cascade information, but the easiest way to accomplish it is through regular one-on-one meetings.
Consistent and regular one-on-one meetings are the perfect place for managers to share new information with their direct reports, precisely because they are consistent and regular. Their regularity means that information gets shared quickly and efficiently. Eventually, employees learn to ask for updates in these meetings.
Managers should be meeting with their direct reports at least monthly, preferably weekly. And they shouldn’t just discuss current work. Managers need to be sure to share information about any upcoming changes at the company, any new projects on the horizon, or any opportunities for development. They also need to take the time to listen to their employees. Information sharing is a two-way street and managers need to be open to hearing feedback and suggestions from their employees.
They should also take the time to understand what the employee is most proud of in their work. Not only does this give the manager a better understanding of the type of work that the employee enjoys, but it also gives the employee an opportunity to share their personal value proposition. They will feel more accomplished and more tied to the company’s success.
A growing company means growing complexity, especially in how information gets disseminated.
As a company grows it is natural for a chasm to develop between the senior leaders and the frontline workers. That’s just how companies grow. But if not addressed, this chasm can push a business straight towards bankruptcy. When the senior leaders don’t know what’s going on with the frontline staff and the frontline staff don’t know what’s going on with the senior leaders, the two will be working at odds with each other. The left hand won’t know what the right hand is doing. There’s no need to sacrifice productivity and efficiency to this all too common growing pain. Be intentional about how you communicate so that your employees can stay engaged and productive.