Key to Business Success
By Michelle Beck-Howard
Have you ever played the childhood game called “Telephone”? It begins with someone whispering a message into the next person’s ear and continues to the following person and so on. The game ends with the last person reciting the sentence aloud to the group. Typically, the final message is quite different from the original, and sometimes quite humorous.
Unfortunately, adults can just as easily misconstrue messages and this can be a problem in business. What may seem like a straightforward piece of information may end up distorted by the time an employee receives it. Some people hear the message the way it was intended, while others interpret something completely different.
Employers are confronted with the ongoing challenge of making sure everyone in the company is on the same page. When management is faced with making hard decisions or the company is going through a tough time, however, communication is often pushed aside.
For example, a 2008 survey conducted by Weber Shandwick found that 71 percent of employees felt their company’s leadership should be communicating more about current economic conditions. More than half of respondents, or 54 percent, reported not hearing from company leaders at all about the impact of the financial crisis on their company.
Employers who do not communicate with their staff during critical times may be setting the stage for a potential disaster. If employees feel anxious at home and at work, they will have a harder time focusing on their job. And without reassurance from management, good employees may begin to question the reliability of the organization and look for opportunities at companies they perceive as more stable.
Effective communication can help companies prosper – during good times and bad – by providing employees with answers to their questions and information to help them continue doing their jobs.
Consider the following benefits from employee communications practices:
Build trust and confidence
Effective communications can help management build trust with employees, especially when rumors are floating around the workplace. Keeping the organization up to date on the latest company information and news helps people feel more confident about the organization and its leadership. Employees want to be kept in the loop, especially when they may be affected. Leaders should be honest and as open as possible. Employees will appreciate not being caught by surprise later.
Increase return on investment (ROI)
Companies with the most effective employee communication programs provided a 91 percent total return to shareholders from 2002 to 2006, according to a Watson Wyatt 2007-2008 Communication ROI study. The study also reported that a significant improvement in communication effectiveness is associated with a 15.7 percent increase in market value.
Improve employee retention
Companies typically cannot afford to lose their best employees, especially during tough times. Organizations that nurture two-way communication between leaders and employees, such as an “open door” policy for employees to chat with managers, will maintain a happier work force. Employees want to ask questions and receive answers without repercussions.
When employees feel confident about their leaders and the decisions that are being made, they can better focus on their work. Communication can help improve productivity levels by ensuring employees have critical information they need in order to do their job better and more efficiently.
Enhance customer satisfaction
Customers may question the stability of a company they conduct business with during this prolonged economic downturn. Employees need to know what to communicate to customers to help ease their concerns. They also will need to know what changes, if any, may affect clients. Taking a proactive approach to customer communications will show the company is committed to customer satisfaction.
Regardless of size, most companies opt for several communications vehicles to ensure all employees receive information. It is important for companies to determine the best approach for their needs. While electronic communication through intranet sites and e-mail are popular, employees who don’t have online access may benefit from a print newsletter or face-to-face meeting. It never hurts to have multiple options to ensure the message is heard.
Several effective communication methods to consider include:
Face-to-face. Whether one-on-one conversations, small group meetings or company-wide “town hall” style meetings, talking to workers in person still seems to be the most preferred method of communication among employees. Video conferencing is also a great alternative to travel for businesses with employees in multiple locations.
E-mail. E-mail is one of the fastest ways to communicate in business, but it also can be impersonal. Use e-mail for quick messages or as a platform to “push” employees to other communications, such as newsletter articles or an intranet site. Companies should avoid sending any type of negative news to employees via e-mail.
Voice messaging. Some organizations have a company-wide voice messaging system that allows staff to access information 24 hours a day. This is a cost-efficient and effective way to communicate with employees, particularly to those who do not have computer access.
Intranet sites. Accessible 24 hours a day, secure intranet sites allow employees to access important company information wherever they have Internet access and usually can be updated remotely if needed during a time of crisis. Intranets also can host other multimedia, such as streaming video from a company meeting or an internal message board.
Newsletters. Glossy materials are not required to be effective, and companies now have the option of producing both print and online newsletters. While it is important to maintain print publications at companies where all employees may not have computer access, it also can help trim costs to limit the print distribution to those who really need it.
One of the most important components of any employee communications program is to make sure it is maintained on a regular basis. This requires following up to determine what worked, what didn’t and what improvements should be made for future communications.
Employee communications is more than just announcing the next company meeting or softball game. It is a powerful tool that can help management and employees connect. It requires a strategy and, when done correctly, it can help companies overcome many obstacles.
Michelle Beck-Howard is a senior human resources specialist for Administaff (NYSE: ASF), the nation's leading professional employer organization (PEO), serving as a full-service human resources department that provides small and medium-sized businesses with administrative relief, big-company benefits, reduced liabilities and a systematic way to improve productivity. The company operates 50 sales offices in 23 major markets. For more information about Administaff, call 800-465-3800 or visit http://www.administaff.com.
April 22, 2010