Maximising the various communication tools

Two children talking with cans on string between them.

Never before in the course of human history have we had more communication tools available to us. Where before we were limited to grunting and sharing our thoughts via cave paintings, now we have any number of ways to express ourselves. This section covers the myriad communication vehicles available to you and helps you determine which vehicle is most likely to engage your employees.

Face to face

At the end of the day, nothing beats good, old-fashioned, face-to-face communication. Why? Because face time eliminates assumptions, allows for body language, and enables real-time give and take.

This medium is almost always the most effective way to communicate. It’s especially important for receiving feedback, performing annual employee reviews, and resolving conflicts. And it’s the only way to communicate when delivering bad news. (I’ve heard plenty of horror stories of managers firing employees via a voice mail or e-mail. Ouch!) Face-to-face communication is also a wonderful way to share good news. Once, I received a bonus check accompanied only by a yellow sticky note on the envelope with the word Thanks on it. Talk about an opportunity lost!

Engaged managers can leverage face-to-face communication by implementing an open-door policy, engaging in drop-bys, having face-to-face meetings with direct reports, and planning periodic face-to-face meetings with remote or telecommuting employees. Face-to-face meetings can be one-on-one, with the entire team, or in a town-hall format, and can be ad-hoc, formal, scheduled, and/or unscheduled.

One-on-one meetings

One-on-one meetings are a time for you to focus on an employee and his or her needs. As such, you should follow the 80/20 rule: Listen 80 percent of the time and talk 20 percent of the time. To ensure the employee doesn’t feel she’s being given short shrift, schedule more time than expected. For example, if you think the meeting will take 30 minutes, put 45 minutes on your calendar.

And of course, make sure there are no distractions. Meet in a private room (an office or a meeting room with a door), and turn off your phone and computer. If time and logistics allow, perhaps meet for lunch offsite.

For best results, prepare an agenda beforehand, with objectives for the meeting. Key topics may include the employees’ roles and responsibilities on the team, performance goals, strengths and challenges, concerns and issues, and professional development and opportunities.

Team and department meetings

For many organisations, weekly or bi-weekly team and department meetings are the communication bloodline for employees. They help establish department expectations and goals and provide an opportunity to celebrate good news and recognise staff.

If possible, these meetings should be face to face. If you have remote employees, make sure they participate, even if only virtually. If possible, schedule time for remote employees to occasionally attend in person.

On the topic of virtual meetings, be aware that these lack the visual cues found in face-to-face meetings, even when conducted using such visual services as Skype. (Sure, people may be able to see your face, but your body language may be hidden.) As such, they require more concentration when listening, more care when speaking, and more rules for structure.

A great way to boost engagement at department meetings is to rotate the meeting “chair” among department employees. The meeting chair establishes the agenda (with guidelines from the boss, of course), runs the meeting, and captures minutes and actions. In addition to boosting engagement, this is a great way to evaluate the leadership capabilities of staff and to foster innovation.

Town hall meetings

Whenever a manager needs to deliver a consistent message to a large number of employees, town hall meetings are a great way to go. That being said, the town hall format often discourages employees from participating in any sort of Q&A. Indeed, in large town hall–type settings, I’m hard-pressed to think of a circumstance in which honest, insightful questions are likely to result.

To avoid hearing crickets when you open up the floor for questions, try soliciting questions in advance. That way, if they aren’t brought up during the course of the meeting, you can address them anyway. Also, before you show up, do what you can to learn about the specific concerns of your audience.

One more thing: Consider leaving your executive entourage behind. A CEO by herself in a folksy town hall venue can more effectively convey to staff that she’s “one of us,” and thereby increase their engagement.

Phone

If meeting face to face is not an option, and a video service such as Skype is not available, then a phone is the way to go. Communicating via phone is also great for answering questions, gathering information, and having discussions not involving the whole team.

When using the phone, be sure to turn your entire attention to the caller. Don’t multitask! Also, answer the phone only if you have time to talk. Otherwise, let calls go to voicemail. Speaking of voicemail, be sure you check yours regularly and return calls promptly. If you’re going to be out, consider recording an outgoing message to communicate this. And when it comes to leaving messages on other people’s voicemail, keep things brief.

This is an edited extract from Employee Engagement For Dummiesby Bob Kelleher, published by Wiley, RRP £17.99

About the authors

Bob Kelleher is the founder of The Employee Engagement Group, a global consulting firm that works with leadership teams to implement best-in-class leadership and employee engagement programs. He is the author of Louder Than Words and Creativeship, as well as a thought leader, keynote speaker, and consultant.