Has anyone watched Undercover Boss? It aired last month and my American colleagues tell me a U.S. version is slated for sometime this year. The premise has a high-level company director going undercover to film a “documentary” as an average worker in various roles in the company. In the 25 June episode, Stephen Martin, CEO of the Clugston Group, took on the role of “Martin Walker,” an office worker wanting to learn the ropes of physical labour in various capacities throughout the construction company.

While the episode was interesting, I have to admit I was more intrigued by Mr. Martin’s insights in this Financial Times article on his experience:

“What lessons has he learnt? ‘Our key messages were just not getting through to people,’ Mr Martin says. ‘People working a shift on a large site do not have time to read newsletters or log on to websites. You have to communicate with people on their terms, and it is different for every location. One size does not fit all.’

“Leaders may know exactly what they want to see happening. They send out messages down the management line. Employees ought to understand. But between the top table and the shop-floor something goes wrong. And right now there is a bigger, more urgent point. In a recession it is even harder to have an effective, open dialogue with an anxious workforce. Mr Martin shared what he had learnt with his team of managers after filming was over. It provoked a (frequently repeated) response: ‘They’ve never told us that!’

“Mr Martin feels he needs to ‘over-communicate’ to reassure staff who have seen big redundancies in recent months. ‘If you don’t pass on enough information, even if it is bad news, they will fill the gap with something else, probably worse than the truth.’ “

This aligns with findings from our own recent market research showing that while 77% percent of HR leaders and employees agree that more communication about company strategy and company values would be effective ways to counteract the negative effects of layoffs and reductions, employees are in the dark about some of the good news, such as increases in budget funding or stability of the company in this economy.

In the fearful environment created by this economy, communication, appreciation and recognition are a cheap and very effective means to reconnect your employees with your objectives and engage them in the work at hand. What are you doing to open the lines of communication with your team?

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