Communication only works if it goes both ways. A noticeboard, for example, is information not communication. It needs to flow in multiple directions – not only top-down and bottom-up – but in other directions too.
Top-down communications are undoubtedly needed in a business. Leaders need to let colleagues know how the business is doing and the direction the company is going in. This is often missing in smaller businesses, but it goes a long way, especially if the leader is an inspirational speaker. Don’t just reserve your enthusiasm for clients, talk to your staff about your vision for next year and how it’s changed from last year. Use a video if it’s not possible to do it face-to-face, and make sure there’s room for colleagues to ask questions.
Bottom-up communications take more work as they’re about giving employees a space to talk about struggles and concerns. It’s important to ask them how they would address these concerns or solve their problems. One-to-one meetings are critical here, along with employee forums where people can come together and exchange ideas.
If you’re interested in gauging your employee’s views on particular aspects of the business, initiatives such as ‘breakfast with the boss’ – with a handful of employees and the CEO and no agenda – can encourage informal discussion.
And while ideally, you want to get to a point where people are comfortable giving feedback, staff surveys are an important part of the ‘bottom up’ strategy and can encourage feedback in confidence. You can solicit the mood of your employees with a quick ‘pulse check’, asking, ‘how are we doing as directors? Answer with an emoji’ using Microsoft Forms or an employee feedback app.
Every business should have a comms strategy with regular opportunities for two-way communication. If you don’t have a framework, communication can fall away. A framework could be as simple as having ‘town hall’ talks twice a year. Someone in the senior team should also ‘walk the shop floor’ at least once a month as well (but remember that this isn’t the place to discuss confidential issues).
Horizontal communication between teams is very important; it prevents teams from working in silos and fosters cross-fertilisation of ideas. Different teams naturally have their own priorities but it’s important for everyone to be aware of what everybody else’s contribution is – after all, your business is just one large team working together!
One way to break a ‘silo culture’ is to encourage work across teams such as forming a working group with people from across the business to work on a specific project together.
Be prepared for criticism. Not all employee feedback will be glowing, but you should always respond to questions and give feedback to comments – ideally from the CEO or the person directly responsible for the area in question. It will go a very long way in keeping communications lines open, foster trust between you and your employees and open up constructive discussions which could be incredibly helpful in the running of your business.
Do you need help creating a framework that will keep communication flowing in your business? To find out how our experienced HR Directors help businesses foster happy, productive workforces give us a call on 020 3633 6830
Lynn Morrison, People Director