Is Bad Communication Holding Your Company Back?

Man in small conference room with whiteboard notes

When Twitter’s former Engineering Manager Leslie Miley left the social media platform this fall, he thrust the company into an unfavorable spotlight. Miley’s departure emphasized Twitter’s struggle to develop a more diverse team, but it also drove home another problem. Miley said he left because of poor communication with Twitter executives, an ongoing conflict he documented on Medium.

Poor communication is an unfortunate reason to lose employees under any circumstances, but it’s especially unacceptable today. Team members crave open, transparent dialogues with their employers. Sixty-four percent of millennials want to improve the world through their work, and nearly 80 percent say they want to work for a boss who acts as a coach or mentor.

You can’t establish that kind of millennial-friendly workplace without good communication. And considering that they now make up the largest demographic in the workforce, consistent, two-way conversations are more important than ever.

Good Communicator, Bad Communicator
Bad communication manifests itself in a number of ways, but all lead to decreased productivity, lost profits, and customer dissatisfaction. Whenever you see a manager barking hasty, ambiguous orders at employees, you can be sure nothing good will follow. People resent being told what to do without any context or support. The worst leadership failures often involve management dismissing staff concerns or not taking the time to give constructive feedback. Your employees don’t want to be treated like drones. They want to feel that their skills are valued and respected.

If you’ve noticed a drop in morale or output recently, then you may have communication problems. Even if operations seem to hum along well most of the time, it’s still worth taking a deeper look at how your team interacts. Catching communication problems early can help you avoid major problems down the road.

People Analytics
Taking an honest measure of staff morale can be challenging. Employees are often reluctant to criticize their bosses, even when they’re working for amiable supervisors. To find out whether you and your management team are communicating effectively, look to your people analytics.

These metrics tell you whose performance has been off, where morale is low, and which project teams are struggling. Communication is often at the heart of these problems, so the more you know, the better equipped you are to implement more effective processes. Here are four ways to use this data to improve communication and overall workplace satisfaction.

• Analyze informal networks: People analytics provides important insights based on interpersonal dynamics. For instance, one team member may be on the periphery of a network but doesn’t work well with his colleagues. Perhaps two departments that are supposed to collaborate, such as sales and marketing, aren’t communicating well. You want to be aware of these dynamics.

People analytics also highlight important trust relationships that can be used to bridge organizational gaps. Maybe an IT guy and a marketer chat at the coffee machine every morning. They don’t work together, but they update each other on what’s happening in their departments, which gets passed on to their colleagues. This is an important interaction that would go unseen if you weren’t looking for it.

• Leverage influencers: Companies spend more than $500,000 a year on unnecessary meetings to review communications and benchmarks. Use people analytics to identify team members who have strong credibility among their peers, and recruit them to keep your goals top of mind so that you can focus on the big picture. These influencers can also facilitate conversations between you and employees who have good ideas but are often overlooked.

• Include stakeholders: Share your data with clients and board members, and discuss conflict openly. A client of mine once discovered that a low performer whom he had planned to let go was acting as a vital go-between on some of the company’s biggest accounts. Rather than fire the employee, my client took him out for coffee to let him know he was appreciated and to encourage him to improve his game. He saw an instant spike in productivity after that conversation. That company would have lost a valuable player if the leadership hadn’t been willing to share what was happening internally.

• Diversify communication methods: Find out which communication systems people prefer, and incorporate those into your processes. Don’t default to email; be willing to try out different messaging software and management systems that might feel more inclusive.

Communication makes or breaks a company. That’s why Buffer has been so successful.
Its leadership is transparent about everything from salaries to revenue, and the company involves employees at every level of conversation.

When you communicate honestly and take your team’s opinions to heart, they’re more motivated and productive. Brash, top-down management doesn’t inspire good work — positive communication does.