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Why Leader Communication is Critical in the Employment Relationship

As an HR Consultant & Advisor to businesses in Australia, Senza Carta’s Founder, Shirley Farrell has often had to remind and encourage managers about why they need to maintain communication in the workplace. You may think that this is obvious but to a large number of managers, communication is just about the task list, the deadlines, the meetings and getting the job done. How Leaders communicate with employees is often overlooked despite it being a critical need for Leader Communication.

This is because communication is seen as not relevant, not to be shared, or simply a waste of time. The failure by Leaders to communicate creates a number of issues.  For a start, the gossip mongers will make up what they believe is going on in the business and spread miscommunication that can take on a life of its own.

Without clear direction or instruction, standards slip, and so time is wasted and anarchy thrives.  Without communication; without positive reinforcement; without an occasional pat on the back, people will disengage and become disillusioned.

As Shirley recalls “An Assistant Manager once provided an excuse for their own bad habits and poor attitude as ‘My Manager doesn’t seem to care, so why should I’!” In this case, poor communication between the Manager and Assistant had resulted in the Assistant making some very biased assumptions.

There is a range of reasons why Managers hesitate to communicate with employees.

Common Reasons for Not Communicating

  • The need to communicate instructions seems unnecessary

Managers can often make assumptions about what employees know about the job or, in their opinion, employees should know.  As one Manager once asked ‘how many times do I need to tell someone what to do before I can issue that employee with a warning?’

Did the manager effectively communicate what to do?  Did they check that the employee comprehended the information?  Was the employee capable of carrying out the instruction?  The responsibility to ensure that the message is understood lies with the person who is communicating but these facts are often overlooked or not understood.

The response to a question about the need to communicate is:  “Being a Manager can, at times mean sounding like a broken record”. Before reacting or punishing an employee for any misunderstanding, make sure that your instructions are understood.

  • Fear of consequences

Misunderstanding or ignorance of what is deemed to be “fair”, “reasonable” or “lawful” is often the reason for not communicating and can create fear in some Managers.  This fear can then cause a problem which goes unaddressed and over time, lead to high levels of frustration for all.

Early on in a Manager’s career, a lack of confidence or the inability to be assertive can create fear.  Inexperience that leads to fear can, however, be removed.  Having a good mentor or coach is helpful for less experienced Managers to gain confidence and conquer their fears.  The old ‘trial and error’ is another way.  No one is perfect and mistakes should be embraced as an opportunity for improvement.

Fear of consequences can be paralysing.  Managers must educate themselves on what, how and when to communicate with employees.

When managers fail to communicate, employees make their own decisions.  In a vacuum of communication from management, decisions will often be made without fully understanding the full ramification for those decisions. If managers do not want this to occur then communication is key.

  • Not enough hours in the day

Oh please!  Good Leaders make time to communicate.  Leaders who understood the importance of communicating with employees to achieve the Vision, Mission and goals of the organisation know that prioritising conversations with employees is a critical component of maintaining engagement.

It doesn’t matter what stage of the employee life-cycle an individual has reached, connection and engagement by good Leaders through communication fuels motivation and a drive within individuals to perform with discretionary effort.

This tired old excuse is obsolete.

Four Essential Conversations for Leaders

Four Essential Conversations for Leaders

There are four essential conversations that all Managers and Leaders must have with their employees.  It’s that simple.  These four conversations have a particular purpose. They are over and above the regular banter about tasks, projects, quotas, customers and other work-related matters.  They occur after you’ve finished talking about sports, hobbies and what happened at the weekend.

A good Leader will elevate their status to become a great communicator by showing genuine interest and curiosity
in the person with whom they are conversing.

Ask any great Leader how they manage to connect with people and included in their response will be by showing genuine curiosity in the interests of others.  A great example of this is how the British Royal Family are so adept at connecting with people regardless of social status, cultural origin and age.  It’s as if it is in their DNA!

Life is complex but doesn’t need to be complicated, so let’s look at essential conversations that Leaders can focus on and structure them for simplicity:

  1. The Onboarding Conversation

This conversation is, ‘in our humble opinion’ the most critical of all.  It is the conversation that creates the basis of the emotional contract between an employee and their Manager or Supervisor.

It begins the moment that a job seeker decides to apply for a position which is why it is important that the recruitment representative (HR, Internal Recruiter, Line Manager or Agency) can positively represent your Brand Integrity and Employee Value Proposition.

We can all relate to that first impression of our future employer; will we get along?  Will I be respected and valued?  Will I fit in – what are my new teammates like? Will I have a fair opportunity to demonstrate my worth?  Will I be appreciated?  Will there be promotional opportunities?

It is at this point where the bond either develops or evaporates.

The newcomer’s desire to belong and perform is forged during this time, and it is the newcomer’s Manager who can build or destroy that desire.

Here are a few quick questions to ask that will assist with building a connection:

  • ‘How are you finding it so far? Have you met with the (blank) team yet?  They were really looking forward to you starting.  Be sure to catch up, and I remind them to catch up with you’
  • ‘Do you have everything you need? You know, if there is anything I can do that will help you settle in; any suggestions that you have to make life easier and more successful, I’d love to hear about it’;
  • ‘There are always things around here that just ‘happen’. Things that we take for granted and are just ‘the way things get done’.  You can always check in with me if you need clarification – no question is a silly one, you can just ask’
  • ‘How was your day……week………….how did that meeting go?’

Make your conversation about what the newcomer is experiencing, it’s not about the telling, it’s all about the asking.

  1. The Performance Conversation

While the annual or biannual process of performance feedback or appraisal is declining in popularity, it does not mean that employees no longer need positive reinforcement.

The annualised performance event gave rise to excuses for ceasing those short, productive conversations between a Manager and their team members.

If you are bound by corporate policy to continue the annual event that places a numeric rating against an employee’s performance, then consider the following, informal but very productive conversation that we call the “Performance Conversation”.

Manager:  What is going well for you?  What isn’t going so well?  May I provide my observations/feedback/advice on this issue?  Is there anything that I can do to assist?  As your Manager, do you have any feedback for me/how could we work together differently that would help you to get the job done…faster, more efficiently etc.

A meeting like this can be prepared for, just as you would for the annual event but it is less daunting, more friendly and opens up the dialogue more collaboratively.

  1. The Career Conversation

Often overlooked because Managers prefer not to know when their team members are planning a personal career move is a conversation with team members about their career plans.  The Career Conversation should not be feared or avoided because open communication about an individual’s career aspirations allows a manager to prepare for a career move (internal or external) that may otherwise come as an unwanted surprise.

If the employee is ambitious and pro-actively managing their career then it’s better to know ahead of time when the employee may be looking to leave.

On the other hand, keeping channels of communication open about an internal promotion will help to retain the interest and engagement of an employee who is highly valued.

In the past, such conversations would have been tabu but the reality is, people switch jobs for a range of reasons and keeping the conversation open may actually provide an employee to “spread their wings” and return in the future when situations have changed for both the employee and the farewelling employer.

  1. The Welfare Conversation

The Welfare Conversation is the most recent conversation to be added to the list of essential communications for Managers.

For a wide range of reasons that will have to wait for another post, employee welfare translates to attendance, productivity and general wellbeing.  Happy, healthy employees are good for business, good for other employees and good for customers which means that managers should regularly check in on how their team members are going.

The “Are U OK“ movement receives strong support across all industries as an opportunity to check-in on the mental health of employees.  The Australian Federal Government have recognised the adverse impact that domestic violence has on employees and have mandated unpaid leave to be available for people so affected.

Concern for the welfare of employees is growing because it’s the right thing to do and because the cost of absence due to illness is costing Australian businesses over $40 billion dollars each year (ABS stats published in 2018)

We recommend that you use the “Are U OK” day on 12th of September to encourage Welfare Conversations in your workplace.  But if you currently have concerns about anyone, don’t wait for that one day of the year.  Weave into your conversation with your employees, how they are going and encourage them to seek the help of a Professional Health Services provider to get back on track.

In Summary

  • Keep channels of communication open
  • Never avoid having a difficult and prickly conversation
  • Break the ice with one of the four essential conversations – we recommend beginning with the Onboarding conversation
  • Avoid too much formality unless situations dictate otherwise
  • Don’t be afraid to have a conversation about matters that on the surface may seem personal
  • Pay particular attention to the most important conversation of all The Onboarding Conversation. Get this one right and the rest will flow

If this article was helpful then please consider sharing it with others who will benefit from understanding the 4 essential conversations that Leaders must have with Employees.  Check out our Resources page and grab a copy of the Senza Carta White Paper – Onboarding New Employees – Senza Carta’s approach to maximising the employee experience.

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