Nonprofit and small business leaders alike point to data and software as drivers for success. However, did you know strong employee communication is just as, if not even more, valuable for driving your organization steadily towards its goals? Let’s look at a few statistics cited from Forbes:
- Teams that are highly engaged have a 21% higher profitability. This is in part due to the fact that those in the top 20%, engagement-wise, experience a 41% lower absenteeism rate and 59% less turnover.
- Employees that feel heard and acknowledged are over 4 times more likely to be empowered to perform at their highest ability.
- U.S. companies lose up to $550 billion each year due to employee disengagement.
The numbers speak for themselves— employee engagement is crucial for organizational success. Strong, open, and effective communication is the best way to foster increased engagement. Whether improving productivity, decreasing turnover, or just generally improving employee wellness, successful communication plays into it all! And, improving communication within your organization doesn’t have to be a complicated issue to solve.
From establishing yourself as a trustworthy source (with data to back it up) to being receptive to employee feedback of your work, there are a few intuitive ways to improve your employee communication. In this guide, we’ll explore five:
- Establish a foundation of trust.
- Check-in regularly.
- Pay attention to communication styles.
- Listen, don’t assume.
- Take feedback into consideration.
Establish a foundation of trust.
If your employees are going to communicate openly with you, they need to trust you first. We’re going to look at the idea of a “foundation of trust” in two contexts:
- Establishing yourself as a trustworthy source.
- Establishing yourself as someone who is open to discuss concerns, questions, and suggestions.
Both are integral to improving employee communication with your organization’s leadership. Check it out:
1. Establishing yourself as a trustworthy source.
When staffers run into a conflict, they may need someone to listen to their complaints. Friends and family are great for that!
However, after blowing off some steam, they need a solution. That’s where you enter the picture. Staffers should come to you when they need guidance or simply a professional sounding board— whether that’s getting past a kink in your nonprofit’s strategic plan or navigating employee conflict.
Establish yourself as the one with the answers. And, if you don’t have the answers right away, make sure your staffers know you’ll hunt down a solution expediently (or at least equip them with some tools they’ll need). The best way to do this is to truly become an expert in your field and organization’s operations. Do your homework and make sure to outline clear guidelines for reference later.
2. Establishing yourself as someone open to discuss concerns, questions, and suggestions.
Staffers won’t come to you with their concerns if they’re constantly worried about punitive responses.
When a problem arises, listen to your staff members before making judgments. Gather a complete picture of what happened or the perceived issue that needs solving, and then react with a level head. If you need to, avoid reacting immediately— think about what is truly the best way to respond to the situation, rather than what may seem like the best manner at the moment.
This doesn’t mean avoiding addressing employees that aren’t meeting expectations. Rather, this means ensuring those staffers feel comfortable coming to you with questions, concerns, and suggestions and knowing that you will respond in a reasonable manner.
There are few things less productive communication-wise than once-a-quarter brain dumps from your staffers.
It’s great that they feel comfortable getting things off of their chest, but putting things off means you might have an overwhelming number of items put on your docket all at once, and it might be too late (or at least significantly more complicated) to solve them. Further, if any wins worth celebrating or recognizing arise, they might have been so far in the past that they’re rendered irrelevant!
Normalize regular check-ins with staff members to create a continuous dialogue. Set up consistent one-on-one meetings with staff members. You’ll stay in-the-loop if concerns arise and establish clear procedures for handling communications when they do. This type of meeting has quite a few benefits:
- Improves productivity. These meetings drastically decrease the time spent writing internal emails, holding ad hoc conversations, and even hunting down information. It’s all condensed into one short, say weekly, meeting that covers all issues that arose in the week before.
- Acts as a conduit for meaningful feedback. Talking with an employee 1:1 is the ideal situation to deliver feedback. Without the distraction of other staffers, you can communicate feedback clearly and in a respectful manner.
- Allows for aligning of organization and staffer goals. These meetings give you a continuous look into the progress of your staff, on a team level and personal level. If any goals are falling behind, you can catch them early on and help guide staffers in the right direction.
- Builds relationship between staffers and leaders. Regular face-to-face communication shows your employees that you’re truly invested in their engagement and performance. When they see you taking the time to hear their successes and concerns, they feel validated.
If this is a new concept to your organization, consider bringing in outside help. For example, some nonprofit consulting firms (check out this re:Charity listing of the top firms) offer human resources and board and staff management assistance.
Further, consider bringing on a business coach to keep yourself accountable, or even just checking-in with a colleague. This team member will ensure you’re checking-in regularly with yourself and living up to your highest potential.
Pay attention to communication styles.
If you’re part of a nonprofit, you know that not every donor likes to be communicated with in the same manner. Some may prefer quieter methods of communication, such as email newsletters and personal thank you notes. On the other hand, some may prefer more public communications, such as social media posts and maybe even donor recognition walls, like in this guide!
In the same manner, not every employee will want to be communicated with in the same way. It’s your job to discern which types of communications your employees respond to best and act accordingly.
There are many ways to communicate with employees:
- Ad hoc conversations
- One-on-one meetings
- Open meetings
- Visual presentations
- Instant messenger tools, such as Slack
- Phone conversations
Pay attention to the different ways your staff prefers to communicate with you, and reach out to them accordingly. Do you have one staffer who habitually reaches out via email but rarely drops by your office or schedules a meeting? Use email first when contacting them next. Or, if you have a staffer who’s the epitome of the Type 5 on the Enneagram, avoid open meetings where they might feel like the time they could spend focusing on a task is wasted.
If you want to improve employee communication, you need to improve how you communicate with them first.
Listen, don’t assume.
You might have heard this phrase before: “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
While this may be true in many scenarios, it doesn’t really apply to how your organization’s staffers complete their daily tasks. Avoid falling into the rut of never improving your nonprofit or small business’s processes, just because they’ve worked in past years.
The world we live in is constantly evolving! From emerging nonprofit fundraising software to the ever-changing digital marketing best practices (thank you, Google), the landscape is changing at lightspeed. What worked yesterday might still work today… but there’s a decent chance it won’t work as well as it could.
Don’t assume that just because the processes your staffers have been following in the past have worked, that means they’re the best possible processes to use. Each day, your staffers are completing work on behalf of your organization. Ask them if there is room for improvement!
Pay attention to employees when they note what’s working and what’s not, and make changes as you see fit.
Maybe your nonprofit’s staff needs a refresher on prospect research best practices (check out this Double the Donation guide) to improve their outreach process, or maybe an investment in updated prospect research tools might be the more appropriate fix. Or, maybe your small business staffers are losing track of lead information and need a solution ranging from a rundown on data entry best practices or a shiny new CRM to fill with contact information.
When staff members see that you’re receptive to their feedback, they’ll be more likely to continue providing that feedback. Further, being receptive to changes in your process, and even investing in new tools for your staffers or allowing your team to complete A/B testing, will keep your organization in line with the times. It’s a win-win!
Take feedback into consideration.
One of the most nerve-wracking communications your employees will approach are those conversations providing feedback on your organization’s internal processes and your performance.
Can you blame them? Providing professional criticism to your boss is scary!
However, if your leaders aren’t meeting the needs of your organization… well, you need to know. When staff members are open enough to provide candid feedback, avoid any temptation to brush them off. If thoughts of how busy you are, or how much more responsibility you have, start crossing your mind— banish them! That staff member has done the organization a service by raising concerns or perceived problems about leadership.
Take their feedback into consideration. As a leader, are they making a good point about how you’re guiding the organization? Or, if it’s more organization-wide feedback, did they suggest ways that your overall process (rather than team-specific as in the last section) can be improved?
If you see it fit to change things, do so. If you don’t, follow-up with that employee providing reasoning as to why. Similarly to how listening to staffers’ concerns about their own work process will make them more likely to continue communicating, listening to their concerns about your process will have the same effect.
Whether you’re a nonprofit or small business, strong employee communication is crucial for success. Improving employee communication is simple— in fact, it comes down to five key strategies.
Employees need to trust you as their leader, and you should check-in with them regularly to prevent backup. You should pay close attention to their communication styles, and pay attention when they point out issues in their daily work procedures. Finally, you should be receptive to their feedback on your leadership style and your organization’s management overall.
Each of these strategies can be implemented right now, without any major investment from your organization. When your staff feels heard, acknowledged, and encouraged to speak, you’ll notice them doing so in an increasing amount!