Human communication is key to engaging your staff and improving employee productivity and performance, writes DOUGAL JACKSON.
For many leaders, the topic of ‘engagement’ is a biannual conversation – a retrospective snapshot of how effective their people and culture strategies have been in driving business outcomes. Smart leaders and facility managers, however, aren’t waiting two years to discover the need for change. They’re embracing proactive engagement measures to improve performance, including enhancing communication skills.
In 2016 Gallup released its ‘Q12 Meta-Analysis’, a comprehensive study examining the impact of employee engagement on business performance. As well as discovering a strong correlation between high engagement and better business outcomes, including profitability, productivity and shareholder returns, the study detailed two methods of measuring engagement.
The first of these methods is reflective measures. These include pride, loyalty, intent to stay with the company and, most importantly, discretionary effort. These are all important and impactful insights, but like any reflective measure, by the time they’re reviewed it’s too late to do anything about them.
The second method of assessing engagement is through formative measures: the human connection. These include statements such as: ‘I know what is expected of me at work’, ‘I have recently received recognition or praise for doing good work’, ‘my supervisor (or someone at work) seems to care about me as a person’, ‘there is someone at work who encourages my development’, ‘the mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important’ and ‘I have a best friend at work’.
The results of these measures are driven by the connection between manager and team member. It’s a connection built on the foundations of human communication.
START BY CHANGING THE LANGUAGE
The relationship between manager and employee can make or break the employee experience. More than ever, organisations are asking their managers to step up and lead, to go beyond managing tasks and processes, to engage with their teams in an innately human way in order to increase engagement and drive high performance cultures.
The teams of the very near future will be vastly different. The ability to go beyond technical expertise and embrace human communication skills will be what keeps leaders relevant. This can be done by inspiring people to do their best work, helping them navigate inevitable change, increasing productivity, promoting innovation and keeping them safe, healthy and happy.
We can define this approach as ‘speaking human’ – pushing beyond typically bland, jargon-filled corporate messaging to consider the way people naturally communicate. It’s an approach grounded in psychology and neuroscience using emotions, narratives, inclusive language and language that fosters connection.
At the core of good leadership is the ability to influence – to change or make something happen. Without influence, nothing and no one changes. And that’s as good as a death knell in this fast-paced business landscape.
Choose any heavyweight throughout history and consider what makes them memorable. Whether it was Winston Churchill rallying England through war, Martin Luther King Jr taking a stand for civil rights or Steve Jobs making Apple relevant again, their ability to influence came from exceptional human communication skills. These leaders understood the power of language to inspire people and bring them together, and how to use words, imagery and narratives to evoke emotions.
CUT THROUGH THE NOISE
Attention is everything. Without it, leaders risk wasting time and money developing well-intentioned, potentially brilliant strategies, programs and initiatives that fail before they ever get off the ground. Not because they weren’t good or necessary, but simply because no one paid them any attention.
The challenge is that life is busy and work is busier. It’s an increasingly connected world, with a barrage of priorities constantly competing for eyes, ears and minds. Emails, meetings, memos, posters, phone calls, messages and all kinds of asynchronous communications – Yammer, Slack and various message platforms – as well as all the socials, all clamour for our attention. People’s days are crammed with more and more communications, and their attention spans are stretched to breaking.
To survive amid the noise, people have become skilled at sifting through irrelevant or uninspiring information. This makes attention an incredibly valuable resource, and a finite one at that. And, like any other business resource, be it money, machinery, time or space, attention should be wisely invested in, carefully managed and never, ever squandered.
Leaders need to take an active role in cutting through the noise and earning attention. They need to draw people in, make them curious, make them laugh, surprise them, tantalise them with stories, visualise content to make it easier to consume, be relevant and interesting and, above all, make people feel something.
PROVIDE OPPORTUNITIES FOR CONNECTION
The same communication tactics that help gain attention and influence people also lead to increased connection over time. By inspiring curiosity, fostering anticipation, engineering surprise and delight, simplifying and visualising content, embracing emotions and considering language, leaders can build engagement and better business performance as a result.
In an increasingly complex and challenging business and FM environment, it’s the distinctly human qualities of connection and the strength of pre-existing relationships that will be the difference between smooth sailing and choppy seas. And this makes opportunities for connection an investment that will pay dividends in the future. ●
Dougal Jackson is the co-founder of Jaxzyn, an employee experience company working with savvy leaders of Fortune 500 and ASX listed companies. He, with Jen Jackson, is the author of How to Speak Human (Wiley). Find out more at www.jaxzyn.com and www.howtospeakhuman.com.au.
This article also appears in the October/November issue of Facility Management magazine.
Image: 123RFs racorn © 123RF.com