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Discovery Surveys, Inc.
Specializing in Employee Opinion and Customer Satisfaction Surveys
Improving the Workplace
HOW TO IMPROVE HIERARCHICAL COMMUNICATION

By Bruce L. Katcher, Ph.D. President, Discovery Surveys, Inc.

Part 1 - THE PROBLEM:

Seven of every ten employees believe that the flow of communications is poor between different levels of their management.

Senior management relies on important information to cascade down through the organization. In theory, information should flow smoothly from senior management, to their direct reports, to middle managers, to first line supervisors, and then finally to individual workers. However, employees frequently complain that:

  • Management withholds important information from them;

  • The information they do receive comes too late;

  • A lack of important information makes their job unnecessarily difficult; and

  • Although unreliable, the employee grapevine is the only way to find out what's really happening.

Part 2 - WHAT MANAGEMENT CAN DO

  1. Skip the Middlemen.

    Middle managers in most organizations frequently say, "senior managers and employees would have a much better understanding of each other if they would only spoke directly with each other." Paradoxically, it is these middles that get in the way of that communication.

    Just like the classic game of "telephone," information becomes distorted when it flows through others. When people pass on information they often intentionally or unintentionally filter, embellish, and put their own spin on the message.

    In small organizations, senior managers can:

    • Hold regular all-employee meetings;

    • Conduct informal breakfast or lunch meetings with employees; and

    • Meet face-to-face with individual employees when walking through the halls.

    In large organizations, senior management can:

    • Prepare videotaped messages;

    • Send emails or memos directly to employees; and

    • Use the services of communication professionals to help choose the appropriate media, message, and moment.

  2. Differentiate Between "Nice-to-know" and "Need-to-know"

    Employees often have unrealistic expectations about what information senior management should provide to them. It is important that senior managers establish criteria for what type of information should be communicated directly to employees and what should not. For example, information should be communicated directly to all employees if it:

    • Impacts the actual work they perform;

    • Has a personal impact upon their future within the organization; or

    • Impacts them monetarily.

  3. Communicate "Don't-Knows" as Well as "Do-Knows"

    Above all else, employees want honesty from senior management. It is, therefore, important that management communicate what they don't know as well as what they do. For example, they should be honest with employees when they are uncertain about:

    • How the economy will influence the organization;

    • The need for layoffs in the future; and

    • Future plans for the direction of the organization.

  4. Over-communicate

    You can never communicate important information too frequently. Senior management should communicate important messages to employees several times.

  5. Use Multiple Communication Channels

    Employees have different preferences for how they receive information. Some like to read it in the company newsletter, some in an email, and others like to listen to senior managers present at meetings. To reach everyone, multiple methods should be used.

In summary, to keep employees well informed, circumvent the hierarchy. Communicate directly and often using multiple channels. Communicate what you know and what you don't know about what is important to their work and to their future.

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