Executive Silence: How Poor Communication at the Top Lets the Rest of Your Business Down

15 March 2017

Diversity, technology, innovation, globalisation; these are just a few of the many drivers behind the frightening pace at which our workplaces are transforming. Change is now the norm, which is resulting in more fluidity in company structures and working practices. However, the way we assess performance is lagging some way behind this transformation.

The biggest complaint I hear from senior Managers is about individuals not doing what was expected in the way that was expected. When asked whether they’ve spoken to them about what is working or what is not, or offered to coach them through it, most say ‘no’. As you’d expect from business leaders, all of them say that they want a high performing team, but if the Chairman and the CEO are not modelling what needs to be done with their direct reports, how can they expect the team to to lift its game?

With top talent becoming harder and more expensive to find, why is more attention not being paid to effective communication? Some say they do not have time, but is not the role of a Manager to develop their people?

Change is coming from all directions at an incredible pace. The structure of the workforce has already altered considerably over the last 30 years, and it will continue to evolve. For example, employment relationships are now far more short-term than ever before and the days of building a career with a single company are long gone. With that in mind, it’s astonishing to hear that many executives still rely on structures or frameworks that don’t have the agility to enable this change. Senior Managers are generally Baby Boomers who have grown up in a traditional hierarchical organisation, are now managing a variety of generations in an interconnected, technologically ubiquitous world.

Instead of being happy with a role that offers job security, younger professionals are now prioritising roles that will engage and develop them. This has also resonated throughout the rest of the workforce, with workers of all ages now wanting more flexibility and adopting a “free agent mindset”. To achieve the engagement that they’re looking from their job, high quality ‘just in time’ communication is crucial. The opportunity for performance improvement can only come from meaningful two-way discussions on a regular basis, focused on KPIs and personal development.

Unfortunately, we rarely see this approach in action. High-quality communication that’s delivered in real-time is rarely happening. If senior Executives are not initiating and modelling the feedback loop, then a lack of direction will filter down through the business, which can drive away talent.

The key is to have regular conversations that are meaningful and relevant to an individual while also ensuring there is mutual understanding around KPI’s or expectations required to deliver. Managers must prioritise high quality, one-on-one conversations with their direct reports. When this is happening, staff feel valued, are engaged and feel committed to their roles and the organisation. A strong culture of internal communication and feedback has been shown to increase performance, morale and retention.

Although today’s rapid rate of change has many New Zealand business leaders concerned about the future, the challenges of today’s market do not have to be that complicated. We need to acknowledge that we’re not very good at changing our traditional approaches and having courageous conversations, and that perhaps all too often we expect people to ‘just know’ what is expected of them.

Strong communication lies at the heart of great leadership and with technology providing us with new ways to connect with others, there’s really no excuse to not provide this anymore. Take this opportunity to examine your own structures, go beyond annual performance reviews and to have braver, better conversations. The future of your business might depend on it.

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