"We need to be better at communicating strategies and goals. We need to boost the quality of leadership, and managers need to give better feedback!" These are some of the comments we often hear from companies when we talk about what it takes to boost employee engagement, retention and an interest in development. There is plenty of research on the link between engaged employees and the financial performance of companies. Most management teams understand the importance - the big challenge, however, is finding the right tools to make it happen.
In the fall of 2015, I wrote an article for motivation.se in which I reflected on whether there is a universal formula for ensuring employee engagement, leadership quality and learning in an age when change is the norm. One in five Swedes was actively searching for a new job at the time, and the performance of Swedish managers was considered mediocre in a global context. And that is still true today.
effective internal communication promotes employee engagement
The connecting thread is a lack of clarity at all levels. A lack of clarity about the company's strategy and goals, a lack of clarity about the role of the manager and a lack of clarity about what is expected of the individual.
But is there actually a universal formula? Are there magical keys that can unlock the problem? I believe there are. One of these keys is effective communication.
Effective internal communication promotes employee engagement, helping them to understand and work in line with the overriding goals and strategies, which creates satisfied customers and has a positive impact on the company's financial performance.
However, successful internal communication requires reflection on our use of feedback. Feedback is one of the most important communication tools in our toolbox. It can be used to identify strengths and weaknesses, to develop managers and employees and to solve problems.
without feedback, communication is just information
How are internal communication and feedback connected? Let's start with the definition of communication. "Communication is the transfer of thoughts and ideas between people to achieve understanding." Put another way, communication is a dialogue for the purpose of achieving understanding.
To ensure understanding, there needs to be some sort of reflection on the message. And this is where feedback comes in. Feedback is quite simply a dialogue between people that reflects how a person sees another person's behavior or performance. Feedback is therefore a fundamental part of achieving effective two-way communication. Without feedback, communication is nothing more than information.
This makes feedback the primary component in the communication process because it gives the sender the opportunity to analyze the effect of the message. It helps the sender ensure that the recipient has interpreted the message correctly. Feedback is therefore a necessary element in communication for achieving understanding. So start giving and receiving feedback that will make you a better leader. So start giving and receiving feedback that will make you a better leader.
Feedback is necessary for successful internal communication
Internal communication is often viewed as a message from upper management that is passed down through the company via managers to the staff. But it tends to be more about informing than about communicating.
If we want employees to understand the objective of what is being "communicated", we need to start by explaining "why" and by listening to the managers' and the employees' reflections. Only then can we find out whether the message has been understood correctly. Focusing on feedback in internal communication ensures a common understanding of the message. It also makes managers and employees responsible for reflecting on and feeling involved in the process of sharing responsibility.
In our ever-changing work lives, feedback is necessary for creating a positive working environment, where employees feel involved in the changes, and for establishing an atmosphere of understanding and security. It gives employees the opportunity to contribute with ideas and promotes a climate of innovation, thereby making the best possible use of the employees' knowledge and skills.
the manager plays an important role
This makes managers the most important communication channel. They are closest to the employees on a day-to-day basis, and they need to be able to convert the overriding strategies and goals into understandable and operational intermediate goals. The employees need to understand "why", the value of it, and what is required to contribute to the common goals. And the managers are the best people to explain how their work assignments relate to the strategic objectives.
Think of feedback as effective listening, where you can find out whether the employees have understood the communication while at the same time showing them that their input is valued. That in itself promotes motivation and participation. Feedback is one of the cornerstones of development as well as a type of learning that contributes to more motivated employees. They feel seen and that their work is important, and it feels good to go to work.
But feedback is a two-way street. The manager also has to be able use feedback from the employee constructively. And for both parties, it is not just a matter of listening and understanding, but also acting when necessary and perhaps even changing a behavior.
clarity at all levels
For management, it is therefore important to specify the goals and objectives of the communication and to specify what is expected of the managers. It's about having managers who serve as ambassadors. To achieve this, the company needs to invest in supporting their managers in the development of their leadership skills.
In this lies a great challenge, but also huge profits for companies which can use feedback to breed success through effective internal communication! To make it work, the connecting thread is clarity at all levels. Clarity about the company's strategy and goals, clarity about the role of the manager and clarity about what is expected of the individual.
That is the key to progress.