The manager’s  role as a communicator

“what we have here is a failure to communicate”

In organisations a common communication flow starts from managers and flows down through the organization to the employees. Managers communicates with each other as well as with employees within the organization. For the manager, communication represents the decisive means by which he/she fulfils his/her tasks and duties and employs the competences and skills pertaining to his/her role in the organisation and in the relations with business partners. The manager sends information to the members of the organisation their response influences his/her decisions and behaviour.

However, in most cases managers in organisations have a lot on their mind. Communicating organisational objectives and happenings therefore become  the least of their priorities. Many managers do not communicate effectively mainly because they have little time to focus on communicating with their employees, they lack communication skills, they don’t think it’s important to pass on details to employees, they never get beyond communicating what, to communicate why, to whom, when who by, or how, they are wrapped up in their own world  or they believe information is power (for themselves). For many managers communicating with employees is not instinctive. People who move up the higher ranks of the organisational structure do so mostly based on their proven job skills more than their communication skills. Because such people have only the technical skills but not the essential (or soft skills) communication skills, messages they send may  end up distorted, misunderstood, resisted, neglected or lost.  Managers have several responsibilities. Fulfilling these responsibilities require developing essential communication skills including listening and effective feedback. It is estimated that as much as 70 percent of a manager’s time is spent in communication, including active listening and giving and receiving feedback.

Regardless of how busy a manager is, engaging in positive communication with employees is essential for achieving organisational goals.  In every organisation, people work together because of the conviction that they can achieve  more by working together. Communication is what enables them to work together and get things done. Communication is the oil that keeps things running.  If employees therefore do not understand a business issue or are not allowed to solve problems, they cannot add value. Empowering  and engaging employees is critical to organisational success. Research has shown a strong correlation between manager communication and employee performance on the job. Being accessible, providing feedback, communicating honestly  and often are behaviours and actions that enable managers to evaluate fairly and nurture top performers.

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On the other hand, the poor communication habit of a manager is bound to have a negative outcome. Lack of good communication practices has hurt several organisations in many ways including loss of business, employee turnover, low employee morale and productivity, missed opportunities, customer dissatisfaction, and work that must be redone.

As  a manager, you need to move employees from satisfaction –focusing on contentment- to commitment – a desire to be part of the future success of the organisation ­– to engagement –where actions and behaviours are aligned to help the organisation be successful. Engagement moves from ‘what about me’ to ‘it’s all about us.’ On a day to day level, employees have simple communication needs, from task related to what is happening within the organisation, especially issues that affect their well-being.  To be an effective manager, it is important to always communicate with your employees. Employees must know the organisation’s mission, vision, values. Employees want to know what they will be judged on and what they are expected to do. Much of this is accomplished during orientation on employees first day of work when they are most impressionable. Many organisations are linking compensation and reward to performance. Employee feedback must therefore be frequent. Annual performance reviews are not enough to keep people motivated and on track. Performance feedback should be regular and frequent so that when the annual evaluation is made, there are no surprises. Continual dialogue on performance can also help employees grow in their jobs.

Smart companies realise that personal problems can affect employee performance and have developed employee assistance programmes to help with problems such as economic problems and family difficulties. Managers must learn to identify these problems and how to get help for employees when necessary.  Again if you want great insight on a product or a process, go to those closest to it. These people can provide excellent feedback and possibly a solution. An employee’s ideas and suggestions for improvement are important signs of engagement. In some organisations this can include demonstrating how valuable the employee is. Examples might include sending employees to deal directly with customers, or asking the employee to approve technical aspects of marketing copy. Employees are also interested in their own worksite and what is going on there. They like to get information about how the organisation is doing, but it is also important for them to know how their department stacks up against others in the organisation, against the competition, and against their department’s own record

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One of the greatest historical problems that organisations have faced in employee communication is the perceived lack of openness and honesty. If communication is to be believed it must be based on openness and not omission. Managers must not only tell the truth, they must also show things will get fixed. This will build support and loyalty in difficult times.

Managers must spend a lot of time engaging their employees, especially those  ‘not engaged’. A lack of engagement fosters an attitude of “I just come in and do my job. that’s all they are getting out of me.” Research shows less than half of workers have faith in their management. Workers who just show up and do their minimum usually represent the largest number of employees and managers must find ways to involve them including, taking time to discuss problems of employees, actively listening and providing constructive feedback, giving them opportunities for growth and advancement, providing recognition and reward, providing a more relaxed work environment,  and recognising that people have a life away from the organisation.  The idea is to reconnect the  ‘not engaged’ so they feel emotionally part of the organisation.

In essence, employee engagement is very essential for organisational success. And it starts with the ability of the manager to realise the need to engage actively with employees regardless of his/her schedules. The manager must have the right interpersonal communication skills to be able to successfully engage employees. Such skills can always be learnt as it is not automatic.


The writer is a Communication specialist

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