The Role of Employees in Plotting Your Company's Course—Effective Communication is the Key
Aug. 30, 2012
Few would dispute that the most essential characteristic of a successful frontline supervisor is the ability to effectively communicate with his or her employees. But effective communication is a two-way street—the supervisor or manager must be willing to listen to employees and, at the same time, provide the type and quality of information employees are looking for from their leader.
Perhaps now more than ever, employees expect recognition for their knowledge of the demands of their specific positions and for the added value their expertise brings to the company. Gone are the days, if they ever really existed, when employees were content with receiving a regular paycheck and competitive benefits, and were much less interested in having a full understanding of the larger objectives of their working unit or the business overall. Today, making employees aware of company objectives, as well as their unique role in achieving them, should be a central goal in any corporate communication program. Such a program could also be a key tool in retaining the kind of talent in which the company has invested a great deal of time and expense.
How corporate objectives are identified and developed, and whether, when, and how employees are involved in the process, should be given a great deal of thought before the process begins, keeping in mind the many dynamics that exist at various levels within a company. These objectives may take the form of new or revised policies, procedures, mission statements, sales targets or budget goals, to name a few. It is during this developmental process when two-way communication can be first utilized and eventually lead to objectives in which employees feel invested and which make sense to each of them.
The less preferable alternative to incorporating employee input, either on the front end or throughout the developmental process, is to first communicate the new objectives once they are finalized and then spend time and effort seeking employee "buy-in" necessary to make the objectives successful. Of course, there is no guarantee employees will "buy in" no matter how much time and effort is expended. The result could be increased employee frustration and lower morale with the objectives never being fully achieved. Such after-the-fact communication is also often the source of the kind of discontent in the workforce that leads employees to seek out the assistance of third parties, such as labor unions. After all, if their employer won't voluntarily share information with them that directly impacts their work and lives, maybe a third party can force communication to take place earlier, and even force the employer to solicit employee input in the development of corporate objectives.
If the decision is made to develop objectives by actively soliciting input from employees, care must be taken to avoid the creation of an expectation that the submission of a suggestion or identification of an individual or group need will necessarily be incorporated in one or more objectives. Managing these employee expectations can present a significant challenge and should be the subject of planning and training involving all levels of management, down to the frontline supervisors. Consistent messaging is essential, and the ultimate success of the entire process could hinge on how well employee expectations are managed. After all, the goal is achieving the highest possible degree of employee acceptance and support before the objectives are formally put into place.
One of the best examples I've seen of a decision-making process that invites but is not dictated by employee input is "The Memo List," an internal social media-based forum at Red Hat. Jim Whitehurst, Red Hat's president and chief executive, described the structure and benefits of the forum in a recent interview with the New York Times' Adam Bryant. The essence of the forum is to provide employees with an opportunity to be heard when a decision is to be made, without necessarily having a say in the eventual decision. Mr. Whitehurst summed up the value of the forum when he stated, "[a]s long as our employees are involved they will accept virtually any decision." That's hard to beat. The entire interview may be found here -
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