Why communication is the secret sauce in high-performing teams

Internal communication has evolved dramatically over the last few years. Once the poor relation of glamorous PR, internal communicators were historically tasked with sending out the company newsletter and dry, nagging messages from HR. You know the ones: “Submit your timesheet. Do your compliance training. No running in the corridors”.

Thankfully, modern organizations are starting to realize the intrinsic links between communication, employee engagement, and performance. But there is still a gap to be bridged: while understanding has increased about this performance connection, many organizations are just not sure how to use the skills of internal communicators cross-functionally..

So, with the (slightly lofty) ambition of helping things along a bit, we want to talk about why internal communication can be the secret sauce in high-performing teams, and how you can use it to improve organizational outcomes.

First things first. What is employee engagement, and does it actually matter?

Engagement has been confused with a lot of things. Motivation. Commitment. Loyalty. In fact, these things are outputs of engagement. Employees who feel engaged with both their job and their organization are more productive, less likely to quit, and demonstrate better “organizational citizenship behaviour”.

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Organizations can’t exist without their employees. Whether your business is sales, manufacturing or curing disease, engaged employees deliver better results. Up to 40% better, in fact. 

Unfortunately, though, much of the well-intended focus on engagement is starting to have the opposite effect. Engagement has become something we do to people, rather than seeing it as a way of strengthening connections between organizations and their employees. People are becoming cynical about annual engagement surveys that end up in the circular file, and misdirected attempts to make them like their work and do more of it. 

Communication is one of the most effective ways to create connections that are authentic and meaningful, and help employees to perform at their best. Here’s how:

Connection to strategy

Understanding how your role contributes to your organization’s success provides a sense of meaning and purpose, and helps people focus their efforts correctly. Yet, only 30% of employees can articulate their organization’s strategy, and fewer than 10% understand their role in delivering it.

An internal communications strategy that is aligned to your corporate strategy, will help ensure that every central message explains and reinforces your strategy. Messages can even be targeted to particular teams: the more personal it is, the more people will feel like they matter to your organization.

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Change communication

It’s trite, but true: change is a constant in today’s business world. But just because it’s true, doesn’t mean people respond any better. Human beings are generally resistant to change, no matter how insignificant it might seem, and resistance leads to inaction, disengagement and, at worst, active sabotage. Empathetic change communication, which includes visibility of the leadership team, structured listening and honest updates, can make the difference between teams who perform through change and those who freeze. 

Manager communication

The most common issue that comes up in employee engagement surveys is manager communication. Too often, people are promoted to manager based on technical competence, and expected to get on with it. Businesses are just not very good at helping people to be managers: Only a third of people managers strongly agree that they are a primary communicator to employees, and less than half feel that they are well trained to communicate news and information to employees.

When you consider that most employees rely on their managers as their primary source of company information, team direction and guidance, there’s a critical gap here.

A good internal communicator will be equipped to train managers to strengthen their teams through sound communication practices. 

Building a better burger

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Ultimately, engagement is about developing a bond between employee and employer. And, like any relationship, this must be authentic and two-way. An employee who feels valued by their organization, is much more likely to value it in return. 

As Jay Bacrania, CEO of Signet Education, says, “If you genuinely care for someone and their well-being, they'll allow themselves to be pushed harder because it's not coming from a place of greed.”

There are many techniques you can use to influence how engaged people feel. But (and forgive us for labouring the metaphor) trying to build engagement without looking at organizational communication, is like trying to build a burger without ketchup. Planned, human-oriented communication is the secret sauce for creating happy, productive teams.