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Employee engagement

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Bill Quirke, Managing Director of Synopsis Communication Consulting, argues that leaders need to build stronger relationships with their employees to establish a firm foundation of trust.


In a world of turbulence and uncertainty, the job of leaders setting the direction and taking people with them is challenging. With tough markets, uncertain demand and increasing competition, leaders need to build stronger relationships with their people and establish a firm foundation of trust. Businesses need their leaders to lead, and good communication is vital to doing that job with success.

Yet, companies are increasingly frustrated by the break in the “line of sight” between their strategy and what individuals at the sharp end are expected to do. Typically, employees do not see a strong connection between the strategy and what is expected of them. What businesses want from their communication is an unbroken chain of shared meaning.

Whether at the top of the business or in the middle, leaders need to understand how to:

  • Engage and motivate their people

  • Lead their people through change

  • Represent the company – especially when they do not necessarily like giving the party-line

  • Communicate bad news – no longer is it enough simply to communicate and hope for compliance. Now the job has changed to one where leaders must create engagement with their people.

    This means balancing the ‘hard’ task and ‘soft’ relationship aspects of communication. The task side includes helping employees understand their role and what their efforts mean to the organisation and its stakeholders. The relationship side involves communicating with people in ways that build constructive relationships, make them feel valued and respected.

    To create engagement, line managers must have the skills both to understand the likely emotional reactions of their people, to bring rational information to life, and to paint a more engaging picture of its meaning.

    The role of the leader is to set the direction, and then guide employees to it. If leaders are to be able to engage their people in both good times and bad, they have to fulfill four communication responsibilities which we summarise as FAME:

    1. Focus

    Managers complain about the lack of connection between initiatives with little co-ordination, coherence or consistency between messages. Leaders therefore have to bring a clear focus on business issues set with a few clear priorities. The identified priorities should repeat and reinforce consistently, and identify clearly what they want employees to think, feel and do to help to focus.

    2. Articulate

    Leaders want to engage employees’ emotional commitment but tend to appeal for it in dry, intellectual language. Leaders have to be able to turn the vision into the elevator speech, paint the picture in more emotional language, turn management speak into plain talk, make messages memorable and ensure those messages fit together.

    3. Model

    If leaders want to inspire and motivate their people, how they behave what they signal is often the most powerful part of their communication. Senior management need to ‘walk the talk’ and be committed because lack of commitment is transparent and can be readily detected. Commitment goes beyond agreeing and repeating messages, or going out on the road to meet people. They also have to champion the company values, lead by example and model the right behaviour and challenge unacceptable behaviour.

    4. Engage

    Where information used to be power, now power comes from interpretation. The leader has to add context, paint a compelling picture, and make the connection between the organisation’s agenda and the individuals’ agenda. This calls for the ability to listen, facilitate, ask effective questions, and to handle the difficulties that inevitably arise when employees accept the invitation to speak up.

    Click here to read a pdf article on how three companies have achieved a business objective by coaching managers to influence behaviour through communication.


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