Managers: 5 Ideas for Engaging Employees by Communicating More Effectively
You hired smart, experienced people for your team, but you still face challenges in getting the best from every team member.
One challenge: creating focus. With all the pressures employees face, it’s easy for them to get distracted. And when team members aren’t clear about priorities, they spend hours on low-value work and fail to invest time in the projects that matter most to the team and organization.
What’s a manager to do?
Simple. Use communication to create focus, increase motivation and build engagement. Of course you know the essential role that you and other managers play in effective communication. You set context for employees, indicating what’s important and how to work to achieve individual success while helping the company achieve its goals.
That’s why you should follow these 5 ideas for engaging employees through communication:
1. Understand which aspects of your job require communicating — and choose the best ways to do so
Use this exercise to explore the link between communication and how you do your job.
- First, find a lined piece of paper. Quickly jot down 10 tasks you complete on a regular basis. This should take you no more than three minutes — the idea is to record top-of-mind activities you spend time on.
- Once you’re through, check off tasks that require good communication to be effective.Chances are, you checked at least half the items on your list — tasks like delegating, giving feedback on work, meeting with team members and managing projects.
- Now think about how you currently communicate to support those tasks. Do you send an email? Stop a team member as he or she walks by and have a quick conversation? Schedule a meeting?
- Finally, consider whether you’re using the best communication method for the task. Does this activity require more time? Is sending an email sufficient, if a team member has questions? Should you adjust your approach to achieve a greater impact?
2. Set aside time to communicate
Of course you’re busy — in fact, you probably feel like the entertainer in Las Vegas who spins a whole row of plates while juggling bowling pins.
But communication is so essential to engaging employees that you must make it one of your top five priorities.
To do so:
- Be selective about which meetings you attend. The most successful managers these days don’t accept every invitation — they say no to meetings that aren’t critical. By reducing the number of meetings you need to go to, you free up time for your team.
- Schedule time with yourself to get work done and think strategically. For example, if you’re a morning person, book an hour or two first thing to tackle those tough assignments. This relieves pressure and makes you more available to your employees during other times of the day.
- When you meet with your team, allow enough time for questions and discussion. Fifteen-minute meetings are great for quick check-ins, but when starting a project, brainstorming solutions or working together to overcome obstacles, you might need an hour or more.
- Be clear with employees about the best way to ask questions or clarify direction. Are there better times of day to stop by while you’re working? Some managers set “office hours”: times when team members know it’s fine to drop in and chat.
- Schedule one-on-one lunches or coffees with team members so they have a chance to talk to you about whatever is on their mind.
3. Articulate your story
When you’re communicating routine, everyday topics, you don’t need much preparation — just do it! But when you’re sharing something more significant — your plans for the year, a big initiative, a major change — you need to build your story.
That’s when you need to put information in context for your team members by articulating:
- What: If your message is part of a bigger effort, start with what’s going on in the company.
- Why: Explain why this is important — for the company, your larger group and your team.
- How: Discuss how team members will be affected by the
- Who: Include information about who is involved and what each person’s role will be.
- When: Obviously, timing is key. Be clear about when employees can expect changes to occur. If the schedule changes, be sure to provide an update.
- As you’re putting together your message, remember to choose simple language. Don’t use jargon or technical language your team members will find it difficult to understand.
- And bring your topic to life by coming up with tangible examples. For instance, if you are trying to lower costs, you might use lunch as an example. “We can still have lunch meetings while saving money,” you might say. “Some ways to do that might include negotiating with frequent suppliers, comparing prices between Deli A vs. Deli B, organizing potluck, everyone-bring-something meals and having brown-bag lunches but providing drinks and dessert.”
4. Use persuasion to motivate your team
Yes, it’s true that a key element of your role is to be part coach and part cheerleader: calling plays, overcoming obstacles and keeping up team members’ spirits even when things get tough.
That’s why you need to use these persuasive communication techniques:
- Demonstrate that you value all ideas. Listen with an open mind and encourage employees to share their points of view. Example: Say, “Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, Nick. You’ve got some exciting ideas on how we can improve customer service.”
- Use facts only to illustrate a specific point, not to make your case. Example: To illustrate your team’s success on a recent project, say, “Thanks to everyone’s hard work, our customer service approval rating increased 85 percent
- Use stories to bring your message to life. Stories connect with people’s emotions and are more memorable than facts. Example: Suppose your team is facing a difficult project and morale is low. Try telling them a story about a time that a team you worked with overcame its challenges.
- Ask for support. Example: Say, “The new processes have increased our efficiency. I’m confident that this new way of working will help us succeed. I hope you’ll join me in demonstrating your commitment.”
- Express your emotions. This is hard for a lot of managers, but saying what you feel builds trust by demonstrating your willingness to be open. Example: Say, “This project is very important to me. Nothing would make me prouder than meeting all our objectives within the deadline.”
5. Make meetings meaningful
You may attend a lot of boring, useless meetings (hopefully fewer than before, if you’ve followed the advice in tip #1). But when you call the meeting, make sure it’s productive.
The first step is to avoid trying to “run” your meeting; instead, look at your role as facilitating your team to create learning, develop solutions, uncover issues, engage in dialogue and reach consensus.
Before scheduling, ask yourself, “Is this meeting necessary?” If your main objective is to simply share information, there are much more efficient venues — including email — than a meeting.
Do organize a meeting if your purpose is to:
- Reach consensus on an issue
- Create understanding
- Respond to questions
- Gather employees’ viewpoints
- Generate ideas
- Develop solutions
- Resolve conflicts
- Make progress on a project
Now that you’ve decided a meeting is a good idea, invest time in making it worthwhile by:
- Defining objectives. Are you solving a problem, coming to a decision or gathering perspectives? No matter what you’re trying to accomplish, it’s essential to articulate your objectives. That way, you create focus on what needs to get done.
- Creating an agenda. This is not a new technique, but agendas are a classic way to create structure and set expectations. You can distribute the agenda a few days before (and include logistics like meeting place and time) or share it at the beginning of your meeting.
- Managing expectations. Managing expectations before beginning a meeting is a vital step in building focus. After you articulate objectives, ask participants what they expect to accomplish during the meeting. Record comments on a flip chart and, after you’ve listed all the expectations, go through and put a checkmark next to the items that will be discussed and an “x” next to expectations that don’t support your objectives.
- Starting and ending the meeting on time. Be the one in your organization who does this when it’s your meeting, even if others routinely begin late. If participants arrive after you’ve started, they will know to arrive on time next time. Ending on time is just as important. If you haven’t accomplished everything, stop five minutes before the end and come to an agreement on how you’re going to address unresolved issues.
- Creating an interactive experience. Adults learn through dialogue; by asking questions and challenging assumptions, they gain clarification and get involved. Create a two-way exchange by building an agenda that is only 50 percent presentation. Devote the other half of the meeting to dialogue (making sure everyone is heard), brainstorming and participate problem-solving.
Communication takes work, but it’s worth it to help employees understand what’s important, stay focused on what will help them be successful and feel empowered, motivated and engaged.