Internal communications for employee engagement and motivation

A recent Gallup showed that 70 percent of U.S. employees are not engaged at work. They aren’t doing their best work, upselling clients, or moving your business forward. This all comes down to having, or not having, and effective internal communications strategy.

“Details of your incompetence do not interest me.”

Meryl Streep’s mean-boss character in The Devil Wears Prada is an icon of managerial bad behavior. While we all chuckled at the behavior (who could be so insensitive to their employees?), in reality, many managers are just as guilty thanks to a variety of communications missteps.

Every well-meaning business owner is capable of inflicting wounds on their teams. These hits can stifle drive, degrade trust, lower engagement, and destroy motivation. Maybe it doesn’t seem as blatant as calling out a team member’s incompetence but neglect and disrespect (through lack of good communication) leaves its own wake of destruction. Worst of all, we often don’t even know we are doing it.

The good ol’ days.

It starts innocently: In most startups and small businesses, top-down communication happens naturally. With just a few dream-big comrades involved, new ideas happen spontaneously, discussions happen naturally, and decisions are made accordingly.

The growing pains.

As a typical company grows, work becomes more targeted and specialized, and employees may work remotely or become siloed by department. Communication still comes top-down, but now managers have different priorities to communicate based on their particular role and different styles of communication.

In this phase, messages lose consistency and official, all-team communication becomes dormant. Meanwhile, the communications void gets filled. Unauthorized employees begin to feed the rumor mill— whether they know anything or not.

Remember that initial natural flow of communication? It is gone. Decisions are now made in a black hole and vital employee input is missing.

The reset.

Internal communications should never be pushed aside as non-essential. Your team is literally your business, the work they provide is the experience your customers have with your brand.

The time to remedy poor internal communications is now. With some creative thinking, you can not only re-engage your employees but see your company grow and thrive from the effort.

Try a bottom-up internal communications strategy.

Step 1: Engaging your employees

Open the doors and recognize that each employee brings their own perspective to your business. Consider a bottom-up internal communication model where employees are free to contribute their ideas and opinions.

For instance, take a big-decision scenario such as restructuring departments. A bottom-up approach would use a reverse-pyramid method where low-level employees are consulted first and an informal two-way dialog occurs. With their insight, a murky restructuring idea eventually comes into focus.

Employees feel empowered for having input and, inevitably, the resulting plan is more likely to succeed.

Is this really important?

This won’t work if leaders don’t actually listen. Infamously, NASA learned this lesson in the most devastating manner. Remember the Challenger explosion and the famous O-rings? Despite repeated urgings to not launch from those who knew best, agency management—under pressure to deliver civilian space travel to justify cost overruns—ignored the warnings. If only they had listened.

Step 2: Enlisting your middle management

Let’s get back to that restructuring departments scenario: you’ve engaged the majority of your work force first. Now, you take their input up the chain and share your initial findings with the mid-level group. They will be impressed with your willingness to be thorough and anxious to participate.

Step 3: Decision making with top management

Once you take your plan to top management, you will be armed with hard facts and anecdotal back up. Now, decisions are limited to the logistics of the rollout, not square-one rehashing. With this bottom-up method, your gut instincts have evolved into a company-wide, single-focused effort where everyone is in sync and on board.

The benefits.

No more terrible meetings.

While the bottom-up communication style may require even more meetings, it also makes them more productive for everyone. To accomplish this, mix it up a bit by employing a few techniques.

  • Have everyone leave their department hats at the door and gather for the sake of the entire company. When everyone understands the challenges of every department, unity happens. And who knows who is going to have a good idea when discourse is encouraged?
  • Let employees vote on an issue with the boss’s vote coming last. This isn’t for decision-making purposes (that is always the boss’s prerogative) but for ensuring a clear consensus of where people stand without swaying votes. Voting can also reduce “I told you so” recriminations whispered if a plan doesn’t work.
  • Take meetings out of the office. Camaraderie is essential in any well-run business and is built on trust and friendship. Shared experiences result in improved communication, increased efficiency, expanded trust and willingness to cooperate.

Protects your communications investment.

Every office structure uses technology to help the communication process. But with everything from instant messaging and email, to social sharing apps, video conferencing, and intranets, these tools often fall short of their intended purpose.

Research conducted by Softchoice, an IT provider for thousands of organizations across the U.S., found employees tend to ignore new office communication and collaboration tools unless they are involved in the selection process.

Instead, ask your team to consider your company’s unique culture, how they like to work, and what they need to be productive? Using the bottom-up strategy when considering your communications tools, you can improve the return on your investment and boost usage.

This article has been adapted from one we first published in Comstock’s Magazine.

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