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Emma Littmoden

The Living Leader


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Blog: The art of communication in tough economic times


We all felt it. The incredible desire to get 2012 off to a great start, this Olympic year that’s full of hope, only to be confronted with headlines indicating that the next 12 months could in fact be far worse in terms of the economy and employment market than the ones that have passed.

Not what anyone wanted to hear, I’m sure.
But, if any positives are to be taken from 2011 it must be this: As people we are always learning, and if we choose to see challenging situations as opportunities to improve and grow, it will simply make us stronger.
From a leadership point of view, particularly at the workplace, what I’d like to see is an increase in the number of people in high profile positions taking responsibility for the situation they find themselves in, and not seeing the recession as an excuse for side effects like poor morale and low production.
We focus directly on how leaders can differentiate themselves and inspire positive results despite the climate, when they recognise that, whilst the environment they are working in may be something over which they have no direct control, they do have the power to modify their own thinking and behaviour to create sustainable change.
One very simple way is through communication, and as luck would have it, just as I sat down to write about this particular issue, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development decided to release their Employee Attitudes to Pay report – which revealed that good levels of communication between leaders and employees, holds the key to maintaining higher levels of morale during the tough times. 
An issue of respect
The fact is, we see many of the leaders who come through our Personal Leadership Programme completely unaware of the impact that their communication (or lack of) has on those around them, but through specific exercises which provide direct individual feedback, we demonstrate how the way you communicate with others will have a direct impact on performance.
According to the CIPD research, net satisfaction (the difference between the number of people satisfied and the number dissatisfied) among those employees who received an explanation about their pay rises was +64% last year. This compares to just +33% among those who got a pay rise but received no explanation.  
In other words, the levels of satisfaction or dissatisfaction had little to do with the amount of the rise and more to do with gaining an understanding of what lay behind it. How many leaders have realised this during the past 12 or 24 months?
How much of an issue has it been for HR teams? We all know that a cohesive group will outperform a disjointed one, so why would leaders not be open and honest with individuals within their team or department when it comes to changes in pay, benefits or even employment – even when the news is unfavourable?
Those leaders who have learnt to listen intently to the concerns of individuals, and treat them with enough respect to give transparent reasons as to why pay and benefits are low, will likely be the ones who pull through the tough times with motivation and commitment intact. 
It seems that the next 12 months may be as tough as the ones just gone, so what we need to see is the leadership within organisations learning from the messages of this and other surveys and taking an open and honest attitude into the New Year, with a view to making sustainable changes to the working environment and boosting morale and productivity levels along the way.

Emma Littmoden is a partner at leadership development consultancy, The Living Leader.

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