Communicating as a Leader in your business is essential in being successful and you’d better know the rules. Fail that leadership communications exam and you’ll question where the production went as your company pays for it in dropped profits.
Two days ago I got back from work feeling refreshed and alive. Five minutes talking with my wife changed all that. Don’t misunderstand; it’s not that I don’t like conversing with my wife. She was upset because of what happened to her at work, and after hearing about it, I was a bit aggravated as well.
My wife works at a part salary, part commission job providing advertising for a local newspaper. She had gone to work that day expecting the largest commission check of her career, and had left for the office in the morning drooling like one of Pavlov’s famous pooches. Upon picking up her check, she discovered it a bit light and did some investigating. As it turned out, the big cheese had changed the commission system overnight without telling the sales associates. Commissions for year-long ad campaigns would now be paid at the end of the year, when all money was collected, rather than now, when the ads were sold. Now be careful, I am not criticizing the validity of this commission plan. There may be perfectly legitimate reasons for the change, but think about the way it was handled. No one who was impacted was told beforehand that this would happen or was even under consideration. My wife was not the only person impacted.
“Now hold on, there, loud mouth,” you may be thinking, “if you tell the salespeople this kind of stuff in advance, they’ll just whine and cry and try to stop it from happening.” You’re probably right. Let me ask you this, how much work do you think anyone at the office got done the day they found out about the commission plan changes? I’m not just talking about the salespeople. If I spent an hour talking about it eight or nine hours after the fact, you can be sure that anybody nearby of a peeved salesperson got their fill too– on company time. What’s worse, now your workforce feels betrayed, and may even sabotage the company effort to exercise their aggravations. You’ve traded a small, controllable problem for a major headache. You decide.
Tell Them the Bad News In Advance
This brings up rule number one. Whether you’re managing salespeople, floor-sweepers or doctors, whenever you as a leader needs to make a decision that affects people’s lives, tell them well in advance of the event taking place. At work, this usually affects the wallet or the employee’s benefits. Oh, by the way, this isn’t a remote example. I consulted with a business of over six hundred employees where management changed the longstanding Christmas bonus plan without telling the minions until they got their checks. Many people received hundreds less than they were counting on, most of which was already spent on Uncle Ed’s new tie and a fruitcake for cousin Zelda. Hundreds of people were not working while grumbling about this breach of trust, and I, an hourly paid consultant, spent extra time hearing about this event rather than tackling the job I was hired for. The quickest loss of the the Expectations Game that I ever did see.
Tell Them Why
Another management communication issue that will return to bite supervisors, CEOs, even special Project Managers is miscommunication, being misinterpreted. When I want my dog to do something, I give her simple, one-syllable commands. “Bear, sit! Bear, stay! Bear, come!” Extra words lead to miscommunication. Some managers use this method when asking employees to do things, rationalizing that the less said the better. Problem: human beings aren’t dogs. We shower daily, don’t have tails to wag, and don’t blindly obey. The human mind is always striving to find the answer to the never-ending question– “Why?” People can’t help it; it’s in our nature. Look at what happened in the Vietnam War, where soldiers– the most disciplined, regimented, and order-following sort of American citizen– often struggled because they were unsure of their mission, their purpose. Let’s hope the Libyan conflict isn’t similarly mishandled.
A second rule of communication then, for those responsible, is to offer adequate information for the employee to answer, “Why?” Many companies moved to a philosophy called Open Book Management for this very reason. Lack of details often causes more problems than divulging those deep, dark company secrets. Look no further than the 2011 labor dispute between the NFL and the Player’s Association/Players. Let the employee protesting about his last meager pay raise see where the company’s money went, that costs may have risen and that profits were down. This will drive an enhancement in performance more often than not. Even if your business is absolutely ethical you may have good rationales not to share every little thing with employees; just supply them with enough information that allows them to draw similar verdicts if they were in your situation.
What about non-verbal communication? I’m not talking here about inflection and hand motions, even though that stuff is crucial for effective communication too. I’m referring to a more global aspect of leadership communication that I’ll simply call congruency. This is where you walk the talk of your message. Oh how crucial this is to carrying out those pesky, new management initiatives. Employees will see in seconds if your actions belie your message. The boss who tries to persuade his people how important dedication to the job is and then is seen leaving the office at midday every Friday in the summer carrying his golf clubs is not very convincing or effective. This doesn’t mean you have to do everything your employees do; after all, you’re the boss. You oversee; they produce. It simply means that you definitely must show that if it’s important enough for them to do, it’s important enough for you to support.
I’ve summarized three things in this article that leaders should bear in mind when communicating with subordinates. First, if your message impacts people where they live and breathe, get it out sooner instead of later. Second, if you want workers to follow through on the stuff you give them to do, provide the reason why. Lastly, act congruently with the message that you project. There are many other rules of thumb to help you communicate more effectively with personnel. Be aware of these three and you’ll go a long way to sailing a smoother, more effective company ship.
Now be aware that there’s so much more to learn when it comes to the art of communication. Some scholars dedicate huge chunks of their lives to studying the intricacies of communication theory and trying to make new discoveries in the field. If this is something you’re interested in, then by all means you should earn a Master’s degee from a top university. Achieving a graduate degree of this caliber will only help you out in the real world. Even if you’re not immediately set up with a six-figure salary, you’ll be equipped with expert communication skills that will allow you to quickly climb up the corporate ladder.
About the Author:
Karl Walinskas is the CEO of Smart Company Growth, a business development firm that helps small to mid-size professional service firms build competitive advantage in an online world of sameness. He is author of numerous articles and the Smart Blog on leadership, business communication, sales & service, public speaking and virtual business, and Getting Connected Through Exceptional Leadership, available in the SmartShop. Get your FREE LinkedIn Profile Optimization eBook & Video Course, Video Marketing video and course, or Mastermind Groups e-course & video now.