As I discussed in my last post on trust, the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that only 37% of those surveyed have confidence in CEOs – the lowest in the history of the survey. They noted that the most important change CEOs and companies in general need to make is to do a much more effective job of communicating to their employees. In Edelman’s words: “Companies talk to their employees last, and that is a mistake, that’s crazy.”
People fear the unknown. If they do not know what is happening, they will not only worry about it, but they will also talk about it and make the problems that may not even be there seem bigger than they are. The “rumor mill” is alive and well in any company, it’s just a matter of what type of rumors are being spread. If there is a vacuum of information or if the company fails to earn the trust of it’s employees with honest, complete and timely communication, then employees will naturally “fill in the blanks”. Forbes.com states that about “70% of all organization communication comes from the grapevine.” Further, according to Forbes, when there is a lack of honest communication, when the situation is ambiguous or uncertain, where there is a culture of silos, or where a company tries to manipulate the grapevine, then the rumor mill is even more active.
One of my favorite companies is Southwest Airlines. Many times I’ve ridden the airport shuttle with a Southwest employee and simply asked them what it’s like to work for Southwest. I’ve never failed to get a smile and positive comment or even a fun story about working at Southwest. They no doubt have a “rumor mill”, but it is often filled with positive stories and fun comments about the company. Employees just always seem to be happy to be at work and focused on doing the best job possible. I suspect Southwest works hard at providing timely and honest communications to their employees as part of growing a positive company culture.
Here are some simple tips for effective communication:
- Establish how you are going to communicate. Employees want to know what they can expect from you and they want you to be consistent. Establish a consistent pattern of communication. Consistently respond to questions and concerns when they occur.
- Tell the truth. First and foremost – tell the truth. “Telling the truth” means that CEOs and managers must pay close attention to how their communications will be interpreted and avoid intentionally “spinning” the communication by word choices designed to misdirect. Employees are intelligent adults and can immediately sense when they are being lied to or when critical and relevant facts are purposefully being omitted. So, be the kind of person that employee’s want to work for by just telling the truth.
- Share your vision. By telling the truth employees will begin to trust and believe you. When people believe you, they will begin to believe in your vision. And, when they believe in your vision, it becomes a shared vision that they can contribute to and be part of. When a company has a shared vision and shared goals they can build something amazing. As a leader, you can then let your employees help lead the company in directions you never dreamed. This is very powerful. Our job as managers and leaders is as much about getting out of the way of the great people we hire so they can grow and flourish as it is about directly leading the company. Both are important and both depend on effective communication.
- Be transparent. Understand that sometimes you may not be able to tell the whole story, but be open and upfront. A good example of this is, “I cannot give you all of the details, as some things are confidential, but this is what I know today…As I have more information that will impact you, I will let you know as soon as I can.”
- Don’t lie by omission. Oftentimes managers paint themselves into a corner that they cannot get out of, and end up lying by omission. There may be times when you cannot share everything. Be upfront about this. Be open in your communication, but do not communicate confidential information. As you can share more information, do so, and do so in a timely manner.
- Be clear and easy to understand. Communicate (often) about the company and its direction in clear terms that everyone can understand. Choose your words carefully. Don’t use meaningless corporate BS language. Just talk like a real person. Show that you care about the company and its employees by clear and honest communication.
- Make the message mean something to employees. When you communicate, be real, and get down to what employees really care about. Why is what you are saying and doing important to them? How will this affect them? And, is there anything they can do to help or anything they should expect to see? By telling employees what they can expect, then showing consistent action toward a known goal, you are giving employees something they can depend on. This not only builds credibility with employees, but also their trust in you, the direction the company is going, and their trust in the company itself.
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