Granted, we humans have been practicing our communication skills for eons. However, we are still amazingly good at reverting back to almost prehistoric faux pas when it comes to sending and receiving even the most basic communication. Some influences can make communication more difficult. For example, noise can interfere with communication. Noise can be any kind of noise, but may include our own thoughts, perceptions or biases. Did you know that organizational growth could also interfere with communication?
During the startup phase, it’s easy for the CEO to communicate with subordinates. The company may even have a sense of family. In fact, almost anyone in the company can easily reach others, deliver and receive messages. It is easy to clarify or even make necessary corrections to communication. As a company grows, dynamics shift. This calls for good management skills on the part of the CEO.
This can be a particularly difficult challenge for the CEO who has little experience in managing employees. As a company grows, even though he or she has hired competent people, the CEO may still be reluctant to let go. Unfortunately, this causes the employees to feel resentment in being second-guessed or even worse, belittled. These employees may leave or they may stay and rebel. Because some employees supervise others, a we/they mentality may ensue creating difficulty in creating a collaborative culture. These elements can result in low productivity, high turnover, not to mention gaps in communication. At this stage of growth, new employees bring their own sets of challenges.
A company grows and new employees come on board. Employees who were already on board may feel threatened or resentful by these new "upstarts." The sense of family can begin to erode. Because the company has become more complex, the CEO is forced to put systems, processes, higher expectations, and higher profit goals in place. In other words, the CEO and subordinates can no longer afford to rely on the data stored in each of their heads for effective growth.
While systems and processes are designed and put in place to help communication, it now becomes more complicated and difficult to send and receive even the most important messages. How can a CEO know when there is a communication gap between leadership and staff in the company? Look for these symptoms:
- Responsibility is abdicated instead of intentionally being distributed
- Conflict runs rampant
- People argue instead of collaborating
- Good people leave
- People don’t have a sense of how their work impacts the company
- Communications are spotty or non-existent, leaving people to fill in the gaps.
- Power plays go unchecked
- People aren’t held accountable
- Leaders play favorites
Employees in the United States spend 9.2 hours per week (13 hours during the workweek and 6.2 hours on the weekend) worrying about what a boss says or does (Taylor, 2010). This study shows the drain actions and words from a mean or incompetent boss can have on productivity and engagement. All the negative elements written about in this article will only worsen if changes are not made and made quickly. Further, if the CEO is not a good manager, the management staff will manage poorly as well. Wouldn't it be nice to have a solution that can solve 90% of leadership/staff communication challenges?
The solution is the one-on-one. Managers, need to spend 30 minutes each week with each of his/her direct reports. The goal behind these meetings is to open up a dialogue between you and your employee. This is not a discussion about projects, or a discussion about work that is or isn’t being accomplished. This meeting is all about a manager connecting to an employee and an employee connecting to a manager on a level that creates a dialogue. The beauty of this solution is in its simplicity. The manager asks three questions:
- What did you accomplish last week that made you proud?
- What would you like to accomplish next week in order to learn something new?
- How can I help you?
This process will break down the barriers that exist between managers and employees, every time. Why? Because it’s an opportunity for a manager to appear more human, and it’s an opportunity for an employee to express his/her value. Granted, managers will need to roll this program out carefully. Most managers are only comfortable asking job/project related questions, asking these questions can be challenging and create fear at first. The good news is that if a manager persists in getting employees to respond to these three questions, the relationship between that manager and that employee goes to a higher level of understanding resulting in better communications, increased productivity, less conflict and higher profitability.