Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What is two-way communication?

“Outstanding Leaders Appeal to the Hearts of their Followers, not their Minds.” ~ Source Unknown

Ask any organization about their internal communications and they will point to their intranet website, used to communicate key initiatives to their employees. They’ll talk about the quarterly CEO updates, where the top executives go “live” and stream their inspirational leadership across the company. And they’ll point to their ongoing newsletter from HR executives that brings all of the employees up to date on the latest and greatest “Human Resource” initiatives.

What is missing from these communication methods is obvious. These are one-way communication vehicles, not two-way. And, even if that quarterly CEO update includes a phone line for employees to call in on or a message function to pose questions electronically, you are still only engaging a small percentage of your employees. True two-way communication is not possible through push mediums alone.

More importantly, the key component of any real two-way communication is the clear indication that both parties are listening to each other. In all of the methods discussed above, the message is “communicated” out, but there is nothing to indicate that any message is welcomed back or that the “communicator” has any intention of truly listening.

The problem is obvious from both sides of the equation. From the executive side, how can you possibly listen to 500 - 50,000 employees with a variety of diverse ideas and thoughts? After all, even the best intentioned employees are likely to have some ideas that are so totally impractical it can be difficult not to laugh out loud. From the employee side, regardless of how you might be encouraged to communicate, do you really believe the CEO is going to listen to you?

The answer to this challenge is not nearly as difficult as it might at first seem because the employees don’t need to talk with the CEO one on one to be heard. Nor do the top executives need to react to every message sent their way. In fact, many companies have “solved” this problem through some type of formal survey process. They commission an Organizational Survey to get input from across the company. When the survey is complete, they review the results to understand the organizational concerns. They may even take action on some of those major concerns … maybe… But if they do, those actions are sometimes not obvious to the employees. As far as the employees are concerned they’ve been asked for their input, and they’ve been ignored.

Is it any wonder that most employees don’t take Organizational Surveys seriously?

Organizational Surveys can serve as a vehicle for two-way communication, but only if the employees KNOW that their responses are being taken seriously. In simple terms that means:
  1. Publish the results of the survey. And not just the good parts; but the bad parts and the not-so-bad parts as well. In other words, management must be willing to “open their kimono” and share everything with the employees.
  2. Actions resulting from the survey must be visible across the organization and tied directly back to the survey itself. In other words, don’t just announce a “reorganization”. Instead, be honest and announce that it is being done in response to the survey.
  3. It can’t be a “one and done” arrangement. Provide regular progress reports on what is being done based on the survey and don’t let it slip away into history.
  4. Measure again. At regular intervals, possibly every 2 years, repeat the survey to look for improvement or areas of decline. And, again, be honest as to why the survey is being done and be willing to share the results again as well.
This is just a start on what you need to do, but I think you get the idea. Actions that are visible and can be traced directly back to employee feedback is one of the key ways that employees feel heard. And feeling heard is a key requirement for employee engagement.

So, is that it? If I do the things mentioned in the last several blogs will I have an engaged organization?

Unfortunately, there’s still more to it. By doing the things listed you have opened the door for engagement, but as of yet, no one has walked through that door. A big part of employee engagement comes from lower levels of the organization and even from the employees themselves.

We’ll discuss some of those ideas next week.

At ECI Learning Systems LLC, we are dedicated to helping companies get the greatest return from their most valuable asset: their employees. We work with you to align 3 key organizational factors:
• Your Company Culture
• The Leadership Styles of your key managers
• The Expectations of your Employees

When these 3 factors are aligned, you create an energy in your company that improves productivity, reduces absenteeism, increases creativity, and positively impacts your bottom line. Contact ECI Learning Systems LLC today to get your free Workplace Evaluation.

Until next time.....

Dave Meyer
ECI Learning Systems, LLC

1 comment:

  1. Great points Dave,

    Communication is two way and I would argue that listening is perhaps the most important half of the channel.

    Many companies are now establishing internal chatter feeds ( much like twitter) so that everyone can get a sens of whats happening, what is urgent, what people are working on and suggestions.