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Manager communication strategies that really work

Byline: Stuart Hearn

Authentic, meaningful communication lies at the heart of any relationship — whether it be personal or professional. As a manager, effective communication is critical and plays a huge role in terms of employee performance, productivity, trust, engagement and overall morale. In fact, almost every employee issue imaginable can be tied back in some way to poor communication.

The problem is, not all managers are natural communicators. This is where training should come in, but studies show that 58% of managers don’t receive any management training. When it comes to communication strategies and feedback, managers are generally left to fend for themselves — and it’s the employees that end up paying. What managers need is actionable advice to help them relate to and motivate their team members.

Below, you’ll find ten tried-and-tested communication strategies to incentivise employees and boost company-wide productivity.

  1. Have a Literal and a Virtual “Open Door” Policy

Employees need to know that their manager is on their team. If they are struggling with a given process, task or goal, they should be able to speak up. Let employees know that they can come to you at any time with their concerns and that you will help them in whatever way you can.

Whether you operate in a traditional office or remotely, you can easily instigate an “open door” policy. If you have a distributed team, technology is at your disposal. Use team collaboration tools such as Slack and video chat tools such as Zoom or Slack to bridge the divide.

  1. Regular Check-Ins

Annual reviews are falling out of favour, which is great news because both managers and employees dread them. The unpopularity of annual reviews is understandable because they limit contact with management to a pressure-fuelled meeting — a situation where you can’t expect communication to flourish.

If your company has not already done so, consider implementing regular check-ins. Allow staff members to get to know you and to become familiar and trusting. Let them open up and use these meetings as an opportunity not only to review performance but to offer assistance, training and acknowledgement.

  1. Don’t Shy Away from Giving or Receiving Feedback

For many managers, the hardest part of their role is feedback. They dread giving it because they worry about how it will be received — but delaying feedback is terrible for healthy communication. It results in more mistakes and fewer goals achieved. Employees also want to get feedback — whether positive or negative. They want to improve and they want to succeed, but they can’t do so if you, as their manager, won’t step up and help them.

Feedback can be difficult, to begin with, but over time and as trust increases, the feedback cycle gets easier and more streamlined. Managers should also remember that feedback doesn’t just go one way. Employee feedback on processes, systems and software could genuinely improve your organisation. Consider carrying out regular employee surveys — show your employees that their voice matters and they will learn to speak up more.

  1. Coaching as a Communication Tool

The days of intimidating, dictatorial management are over. Today, employees want and deserve, their manager to act as a coach. For your feedback to be well-received, feedback sessions will need to be supported by coaching conversations. Improve communication by showing your employees you want them to succeed and you are willing to give them the support, tools and training they need to thrive.

  1. Avoid Office Jargon

“Circling back” or “tabling discussions” aren’t going to improve communication in your company. Asking employees if they have the “bandwidth” to handle a given task won’t facilitate discussions. Keep conversations in plain English. Speak clearly and refrain from overused business jargon — your employees will thank you for it.

  1. Actually Get to Know Your Team

… and encourage them to get to know each other. This might sound like an obvious point, but the fact is, the better you know your co-workers, the better your communications will be. Encourage after work socialising. Don’t be too quick to shut down watercooler conversations. There are a number of benefits to workplace friendships that go far beyond improved communication. Improved connections lead to higher morale, better rates of retention and even increased collaboration.

  1. A Little Bit of Recognition Goes a Long Way

Employees want to feel valued and respected by their managers. If they feel taken for granted or ignored, they won’t have much incentive to speak up or communicate with you. Thankfully, employee recognition doesn’t have to cost a lot or take a lot of time — a simple “thank you” or “good work” goes a long way. Just make employees aware that you notice all the hard work they are putting in and you are appreciative. This will also reduce your voluntary turnover — global studies reveal that 79% of employees who quit their jobs cite a lack of appreciation as their main reason for jumping ship.

  1. Remember Non-Verbal Communication

The words you say only ever tell half the story. All communication is at least partly non-verbal, relying on body language and facial expression — so, technology will not, and should never, completely replace face-to-face meetings. When communicating, give your employee your full attention. Make eye contact and beware of dismissive body language, such as arm crossing.

  1. Define Clear Objectives

You might not have considered goal-setting a communication strategy, but by having a simple and clear goal-setting system, you will avoid a lot of confusion and miscommunication at your organisation. Too many employees don’t know what is expected of them at work. If this is the case — even if they want to excel — they won’t have the tools to do so. Ultimately everyone is frustrated — the employee, the manager and HR.

Consider making goal-setting a collaborative process. You can sit down with your employee and discuss organisational objectives. You can then talk about your employee’s role and how it directly feeds into these objectives. Once this is understood, the employee can begin to think of goals to support the company’s direction. This increased autonomy will also give employees more ownership over their goals and, ultimately, their roles at work.

  1. Be Honest — Even When It’s Difficult

You can’t ask for authentic communication only when it suits you. Transparent communication needs to work both ways. If you expect your employees to be entirely honest with you, they deserve the same respect from you. This means you should be willing to be honest at all times — even when it’s difficult. Don’t shy away from questions just because they are awkward to answer and don’t feel you need to protect your employees from certain company obstacles. You hired competent, responsible adults — they deserve to be treated as such.

About the Author:

Stuart Hearn is CEO & Founder of Clear Review, a performance management software platform. Stuart works with companies to improve levels of employee engagement, productivity and morale, to keep them resilient in a  competitive marketplace.

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Loren Webb

Loren Webb

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