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Three Basic Rules for
Management Communication

Ignore these simple points -- and brace yourself for a nosedive in your workers' productivity!

by Karl Walinskas

Two days ago I came home from the office feeling invigorated and alive. Five minutes talking with my wife changed all that.

Donít misunderstand, itís not that I donít like talking with my wife. She was upset because of what happened to her at work, and after hearing about it, I was a bit miffed as well.

My wife works at a part salary, part commission job selling advertising for a local publication. She had gone to the office that day anticipating the biggest commission check of her career, and had left home in the morning salivating like one of Pavlovís famous pooches.

Upon picking up her check, she found it a bit light and did some investigating. As it turned out, the big guy had changed the commission plan overnight without telling the sales associates. Commissions for year-long ad campaigns would now be paid at the end of the year, when all money was collected, rather than now, when the ads were sold.

Now be careful, I am not judging the validity of this commission plan. There may be perfectly valid reasons for the change, but think about the way it was handled. Nobody who was affected was told in advance that this would happen or was even under consideration. My wife was not the only person affected.

Wait a second, there, big mouth," you may be thinking, "if you tell the salespeople this kind of stuff in advance, theyíll just whine and cry and try to stop it from happening." Youíre probably right.

Let me ask you this, how much work do you think anybody at the publication got done the day they found out about the commission plan changes? Iím not just talking about the salespeople. If I spent an hour talking about it eight or nine hours after the fact, you can bet that anybody within earshot of a peeved salesperson got their fill too - on company time. Whatís worse, now your workforce feels betrayed, and may even sabotage the company effort in order to work off their frustrations. Youíve traded a small, manageable problem for a major headache. You decide.

1. Tell them in advance

This brings up rule number one. Whether youíre dealing with salespeople, floor-sweepers or doctors, anytime you as a manager need to make a decision that affects peoples lives, tell them well in advance of the event taking place. At work, this usually affects the pocketbook or the employeeís benefits.

Oh, by the way, this isnít an isolated example. I consulted with a company of over six hundred employees where management changed the longstanding Christmas bonus plan without telling the minions until they received their checks. Many people received hundreds less than they were expecting, most of which was already spent on Uncle Edís new tie and a fruitcake for cousin Zelda. Hundreds of people were not working while complaining about this breach of faith, and I, an hourly paid consultant, spent extra time hearing about this event rather than working on the project I was hired for.

2. Give enough information

Another communication problem that will come back to bite managers and supervisors is miscommunication, being misinterpreted.

When I want my dog to do something, I give her simple, one-syllable commands. "Bear, sit! Bear, stay! Bear, come!" Extra words lead to miscommunication. Some managers use the same approach when asking employees to do things, thinking that the less said the better.

Problem: human beings arenít dogs. We shower daily, donít have tails to wag, and donít blindly obey. The human mind is always striving to find the answer to the never-ending question--"Why?" People canít help it; itís in our nature. Look at what happened in the Vietnam War, where soldiers - the most disciplined, regimented, and order-following breed of American citizen - often struggled because they were unsure of their mission and purpose.

A second rule of communication then, for those in authority, is to provide sufficient information for the employee to be able to answer the question "Why?"

Many organizations are now considering a relatively new philosophy called Open Book Management for this very reason. Lack of information often causes more problems than divulging those deep, dark company secrets. Let the worker complaining about his last meager pay raise see where the companyís money went, that expenses may have risen and that profits were down. This will drive an improvement in performance more often than not.

Even if your business is completely ethical, you may have good reasons not to share everything with employees. Just provide them with enough information that allows them to draw similar conclusions if they were in your position.

3. Ensure your messages are congruent

What about non-verbal communication? Iím not talking here about tone of voice and hand gestures, although that stuff is critical for effective communication too. Iím referring to a more global aspect of management communication that Iíll simply call congruency.

This is where you walk the talk of your message. Oh, how important this is to implementing those pesky, new management initiatives. Employees will notice in seconds if your actions belie your message.

The boss who tries to convince his people how important dedication to the job is and then is seen leaving the office at noon every Friday in the summer carrying his golf clubs is not very persuasive or effective. This doesnít mean you have to do everything your employees do, after all, youíre the boss. You manage; they produce. It simply means that you absolutely must show that if itís important enough for them to do, itís important enough for you to support.

I've outlined three things in this column that managers should be aware of when communicating with subordinates. First, if your message affects people where they live and breathe, get it out sooner rather than later. Second, if you want workers to follow through on the stuff you give them to do, provide the reason why. Lastly, act congruently with the message that you project.

Copyright, Karl Walinskas

Karl Walinskas is an expert at organizational communications; a Chief Operating Officer, speaker and freelance writer in Pennsylvania who helps businesses and individuals who want to communicate more effectively through his company, The Speaking Connection (http://www.karlwalinskas.com). His latest book is Getting Connected Through Exceptional Leadership, and he is a frequent contributor to business publications across the country. Karl can be reached for bookings, questions or suggestions at 570-675-8956 or by email at karlwalinskas@pobox.com .

Some Related Articles:

Communicating Decisions: Seven Things to Share
Treat Your People More Like Machines!
How to Give Your Staff Permission to Talk to You
Conversations can be the Key to a Manager's Success
How to Control Anger in the Workplace
Resolving Conflict Without Punching Someone Out
Emotional Intelligence: Lessons from a One-Pound Furball
Conversations can be the Key to a Manager's Success


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