Staff engagement

Dec 23 2012 10:19
*Ian Mann
Finiancial Times Briefings: Management Communication by Gordon Adler

GORDON Adler, author of Management Communication, is a corporate communications specialist who conducted a five-year study of communication skills and behaviours of senior managers of large international corporations.

The results make a compelling case for reading this book.

Only 10% of staff surveyed thought their managers knew how to communicate effectively, while 50% felt their managers didn’t spend enough time communicating.

According to 60%, their managers were out of touch with what staff felt and thought and 72% of all those surveyed at all levels believed that communication is critical to business success.

Management communication differs from other communication forms in a significant way: you only succeed if your message gets the response you want from your audience. That they heard and understood is not relevant if you don’t get the response you want.

Why should you bother reading a book about management communication?

There are at least three good reasons, and the first is that ineffective communication is very costly to your career. According to a poll of Harvard Business Review readers, the ability to communicate was rated the most important factor in making a manager promotable.

The second reason is the increasing complexity of the 21st century workplace.

We have flatter organisations, we have more diverse employees, and we have to make greater use of teamwork. All of these factors make communication more complex and more essential for success. Add to this the managerial need to communicate with many people over whom you have no formal control.

The third reason is what we know about how our brains from research into neurophysiology.

Our brains are a hard-wired, signal processing machines. We process information by simplifying it, so the simpler the message, the more easily our brains can process it. Making the complex simple is no simple matter; it is a skill that few possess naturally.

Add to this that the rational part of our brains is blocked when the emotional centre is occupied. When emotions run high, especially fear, the best rational arguments will neither engage nor persuade.

Consider the five ways you can read the following simple question: “What did you do today?”

What did you do today? What did you do today? What did you do today? What did you do today? What did you do today? 

Managers need think of communication as a conscious, purposeful choice that leads to saying the right things, to the right people, in the right way, at the right time – all in order to get the desired result.

This is a managerial challenge that cannot be ignored because poor communication confuses, disillusions and demotivates.

All communication, whether to an individual, a group or external stakeholders, can be understood in three steps: preparing yourself and the receiver, sending the message, and checking for understanding.

Spending just a few seconds (literally) before you start communicating to get yourself clear on your purpose, the message you are going to send, and how you can send this message most effectively, may save you much time in the long run.

Consider how much time is spent undoing misconceptions, misinformation and misunderstanding.

Most management communication is ultimately about persuasion. You give instructions, share information, and ask questions, all for the purpose of getting things done through others. This persuasion requires that you concern yourself with what you want the listener/s to think, believe, feel and do.

I am persuaded that considering only this question will give your communication a huge boost. What do I want them to think, believe, feel, and do?

It is important to note these questions are not reserved for your television interview or report to the board - they are for your daily communication with colleagues and staff.

Communication is not an event; good communication requires an environment that facilitates good communication.

Three issues are required to achieve this: trust, a common agenda, and dialogue.

When groups of people feel they can be open, frank and honest without fear of adverse consequences, real communication can begin. When groups have a goal that they share and a common vision for their future, there is so much less misunderstanding.

When there is continuous and free communication, misunderstandings are rapidly clarified and don’t consume unnecessary time and nerve energy.

This practical book deals with three types of communication: interpersonal, internal groups and external communication.

Among the many useful tools contained in the book is the “communications audit” for interpersonal communication. Every employee needs to know the answers to six questions; some may already be known, but it is rare that all are.

Management communication must start with clarifying what is unclear, and then repeating the process as the workplace evolves.

Do all your staff know exactly what is expected of them?

Are they aware of how they are doing? What sort of feedback are they getting to clarify this?

Do individuals and teams get adequate recognition and thanks for the work they do? This is important because we all need to know that someone cares about the work we do.

Is it clear to employees what the team and department’s goal are and how they get results? If you want a sense of “we” beyond “me” this has to be clarified.

Do employees understand the values that underpin the unit or department? What is acceptable and what is not?

Do employees know what they can and cannot do to help? Too often problems caused by employees are a consequence of fine intentions applied inappropriately.

Considering only this list is a good place to start with your immediate reports.

How about the following New Year’s resolution: l will improve my communications considerably in 2013 so my staff know what I meant and did not mean, so we can get the right things done more efficiently and effectively.

Readability: Light --+-- Serious
Insights:     High --+-- Low
Practical:    High +---- Low

*Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy. Views expressed are his own.
ian mann  |  book review



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