Guest post by Jennifer Rock and Michael Voss:
This may sound like the confession of a person with marital issues, or the breakdown in a long-term friendship. But it’s a quote from a CEO client of ours. Someone who learned the hard way about the importance of maintaining trust between the C-suite and front-line employees.
It’s a critical lesson we can all absorb through his experience: Communication is key to any good relationship. And just as you can erode trust with a miscommunication, you can rebuild it with honest, clear communication. Here are three ways to do it.
Create a steady drumbeat of communication.
Timing is everything, as they say. Create, publish and stick to a monthly or quarterly schedule of communication, so employees know what to expect, and when to expect it. Organizations that communicate on an ad-hoc basis are creating a vacuum of information – and employees will fill those gaps with misinformation and rumors.
Major announcements and breaking news can’t wait for the next meeting or newsletter, of course. So, it’s OK to go off-schedule when you must. Just make sure employees always hear about important company news from the company itself – before getting a Google alert or seeing it on Eyewitness News.
Let’s be honest: It’s a risk to put an open mic in the hand of an unscreened and potentially upset employee. But company leaders who demonstrate a high degree of trust in their employees will find that trust returned more often than leaders who favor heavily filtered and overly controlled communication.
Make time for informal communication.
Unscheduled and informal chats help break down walls between leaders and employees. It may sound like the simplest of tactics, but it’s often the most difficult for executives to do well.
Some leaders tout an “open-door policy,” not realizing that few entry-level employees would feel comfortable walking into an executive’s office. Instead, challenge yourself to get out of your office and out of meetings at least once a day. Walk the halls. Eat lunch in the cafeteria. Get coffee in the breakroom. This is your chance to not only have informal conversations with employees, but to literally be seen as an approachable, accessible leader.
If you have a distributed workforce across many locations or time zones, consider online options. Employees connect on a different level with leaders who jump into internal social media discussions to comment and answer questions. You also may want to hold regular “virtual town halls” where employees and leaders can chat online about the company. And don’t discourage personal questions (not too personal, of course). Learning about a leader’s previous jobs or her favorite movie goes a long way to creating a relationship between leaders and employees, and establishing trust in the workplace.
Jennifer Rock and Michael Voss own a communications agency, ROCKdotVOSS.com, specializing in executive and employee communication. Their workplace novels – B.S., Incorporated and Operation Clusterpuck – are funny, heartfelt stories that show corporate leaders what NOT to do.