Although an average person might think that managers don’t have a reason to feel uncomfortable talking to their employees, if you are someone working in the HR department, you know this is not true. And no, as you already know, it’s not just about giving potentially negative feedback - it’s about communication in general.
Just think about the hours that would have been saved and the stress that could have been avoided if an employee would just say - look, I don’t think we are doing things the right way, can we talk? - or if a manager would say - listen, this project seems to make you stressed: what can we do differently? Now that would make your job as an HR professional much easier, wouldn’t it?
However, encouraging such transparent communication is more difficult than it sounds, and we all might need some help in that department. So here are a few pointers on how to approach this topic!
Assess the Current Situation
First things first - it is necessary to assess the current state of your internal communication.
Interview employees and managers to learn how they communicate with each other, indicate that there’s a problem, praise others for a job well done, etc. Also, ask them how they would solve some of the communication bottlenecks, as they might offer practical advice on streamlining internal communication.
Knowing about the biggest blockers first-hand might trick you into starting to try out different strategies straight away, but the wise and necessary step is first to set goals for your internal communication strategy and set metrics. This is an important step as there’s no manner to monitor the progress unless it’s measurable. The management and employees must understand the importance of objectively assessing the current state.
So, what strategies can you advise both managers and employees to get them to start communicating openly?
Set an Example
Many would agree that a company’s number one asset is its employees - and while that’s true, managers’ role in shaping this community is of immense importance. Managers should lead by example, and if they say one thing but then do the opposite or approve of a certain process and then scold an employee for following it, employees will see this as a sign that they shouldn’t be honest as well.
Another trap here is feedback - it’s not enough for the management (and employees, for that matter) to just nod their heads. It’s important to acknowledge it and act upon it. This is crucial because if you don’t really act, people will think their opinion doesn’t matter, and they will stop being transparent.
Talk About the Good and the Bad
As an employee in the HR department, you should help the management find the most adequate way to inform the employees about everything they need to know. Company life also has its ups and downs: people make mistakes; projects aren’t always successful; clients aren’t always satisfied; employees leave the company… And it’s all normal and should be treated as such. If the management isn’t talking about this, the employees will start their own guesswork, while doubt and restlessness will find a breeding ground on your company floor.
If we take this to the performance level, we can safely conclude: people who are afraid to speak up and doubt that their words matter are employees who can’t give their best. Of course, it’s not easy to talk about mistakes and issues, to bring “bad” news, but it’s necessary.
Encourage a Collaborative Mindset
Honesty is difficult to achieve in an environment where people don’t feel like they belong. When asked, the employees say that one of the most important factors that makes them feel like they belong in a company is when they are recognized for their accomplishments. According to LinkedIn’s report, some 60% of Millennials have a strong need to be praised for their achievements.
Also, taking note of your employees' birthdays and work anniversaries and celebrating them is a way for management to show that they care about their employees and their milestones. Fostering this kind of team mindset creates a pleasant atmosphere of trust, so honest communication is a natural result. As an HR professional, you can help by initiating small congratulations/thank you gestures and activities and ensuring no important date or professional achievement goes unnoticed.
Choose Your Communication Channels Wisely
Although it’s sometimes easier or quicker to write rather than speak, some things need to be communicated face-to-face. Then again, some of the meetings could have been e-mails. Be it an uncomfortable company decision or quarterly feedback, each piece of “news” should have a proper channel to be expressed in.
Help management and employees find the best means of communication for everything that needs to be conveyed. Newsletters, emails, surveys, instant messaging apps, digital notice boards, podcasts - each of these and other channels can be used to ensure all important pieces of information reach everyone.
Transparent communication is the cornerstone of any organization. If neither party is ready for an open dialogue, there can be no trust, true team spirit, effective problem-solving, or clarity about expectations. In such a working environment, employees don’t stay long, and company goals aren’t attained.
Embracing honesty fosters an environment where trust thrives, conflicts find constructive resolutions, and the combined capabilities of management and employees reach their full potential. Ultimately, transparent communication becomes the pathway to a more robust, unified, and prosperous organization, where each individual feels appreciated and motivated to give their utmost contributions.