Improving communication

I am looking for ways to get employees to discuss how to improve communication.  I have held employee meetings (with food) to try to elicit suggestions, but it was like talking to a pile of bricks -- except bricks might have been more responsive.  It's frustrating because we always score low on communication on employee surveys, so it's like they want to complain but not give any ideas for improvement.  I'd appreciate any suggestions!


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  • Maybe some of your employees are undcomfortable talking in front of others and would prefer to give their suggestions in writing.You could give them a mandatory survey to fill out.
  • You could go around the room and require each person to give some suggestions. More people would be inclined to talk if you go around the room rather than simply asking the group as a whole for suggestions.
  • it might be helpful to say "based on your feedback, we as a company realize that we need to improve communication and we are brainstorming ideas.  we welcome your input and you can do so anonymously through our employee suggestion system." you may also want to ask employees to provide an example where communication was poor. you might be surprised by the responses but they will help you find ways to improve communication..
  • i agree - maybe giving them some direction may be helpful in getting them to talk. also, make sure that no one from higher management is in the room when you're meeting. employees will probably be hesitant to share suggestions with the higher-ups being in the room.

  • I second the idea of a survey--people are usually more candid in this format than in front of a group. The only problem though, is that if you make it anonymous, you won't get a chance to speak further with the person to get more information (or possibly work to resolve the communication issue) and if you don't make it anonymous, employees may fear that because it IS in writing that it might be shared with upper management and they'll be perceived as a complainer. So it's tough to say what format is best.  Maybe one on one meetings with your team/staff--just allocate 10 minutes per person.  Some people may have nothing to say about the topic and others may need the 10 minutes and more to air it out. 
  • I agree with kyliefan about meeting one-on-one.  I try to circulate around people's work areas on a regular basis just to chat about what's going on in their lives. I think it has improved communication because they feel more comfortable mentioning things to me during casual conversation.  Plus they don't have to leave their work areas to come and talk with me.
  • People are sometimes unwilling to voice their opinion in a group or even on a one-to-one if they feel what they say will come back to haunt them later.  Have you spent time watching how people do or don't communicate or interact in your company?  Does there seem to be a problem with employees speaking with one another about their work?  Does one person make another feel inferior just by the way they speak with them or act toward them?  What is the body language (You can determine a lot by this)?  Do people assume others know what they are speaking about? 

    Once you have determined what might be causing the problem, you can start to implement changes.  You can't expect changes overnight and/or you may have to revise what you are doing several times. 

  • When we hold employee meetings we ask that they anonymously write down items for discussion for the agenda which we review prior to the actual meeting.  We then address the comments/suggestions with the group.  This has worked well and seems to open the door to improved communication during the meeting.  After using a few times employees were more apt to openly ask questions and share ideas without hesitation. 

  • Another idea would be to remember to ask good questions.  If you are a manager, you want to inspire critical thinking without causing confusion or silence from the group.  Some tips to remember (from The Mentoring Advantage by Florence Stone):

    1)  Monitor the time between the question being asked and the reply.  (If the employee doesn't respond in ten seconds, you need to rephrase the question).

    2)  Don't talk after you ask the question.  (Give the employee an opportunity to answer).

    3)  Think before you ask your question.  (Consider the goal of your question and ask yourself if the reply will take you in the direction in which you want the conversation to go).

    4)  Don't lead the employee.  (That will just get you the answers you want to hear, not the honest answers that will move everyone forward in achieving the development goals on which you have agreed).

    5)  Dig with your questions.  (More in-depth inquiry may trigger a little discomfort for the employee(s) and yourself, but safe superficial questions will do little to provide insights into how your employee is thinking).

    6)  Don't expect rapport between you and your employee(s) immediately.  (Back off and give your employee an opportunity to communicate thoughts).


    Hope this helps!

  • If your organization is one that is diverse either in age or ethnicity I suggest trying different methods of communication.  For those in generational differences, it is integral to address the Traditionalist generation - those born 1915-1945 with face to face meetings and to let them no that you are with them each step of the way.  To more effectively communicate with Baby Boomers 1946-1964, it is wise to respond to them in an open, direct manner.  Show your flexibility in thinking and show them how to do things, rather than leave them to the wolves, so to speak.  For Gen X and for that matter, Gen Y employees, remember they are very comfortable with technology.  Email, text messaging, instant messaging, works quite well for them.  They are not about to sit in long meetings, as they value their work time, and strive to find the work/life balance.  Ethnicity wise, it is integral to include your ehtnic groups in ways that make them more comfortable.  Set aside a day each month for a cultural awareness day, have a particular ethnic group share photos of their land, make their foods and share their clothing, etc.  Change it each month to celebrate the commonalities, rather than the differences of each person. Proversity...  Give it a go!
  • I would recommend establishing a "safe" and annonymous suggestion system where employees can drop off thier ideas without fear.   It sounds like there may be an underlying morale issue that could be causing them fear that they can't speak freely.  Another suggestion would be to ask the employees to drop off questions for the CEO or company leader.   Have the CEO answer them via email or in person at a company meeting.  It may open up the communication lines.
  • I agree with earlier posts that soliciting suggestions in a group format doesn't always work.  You'll get a few "talkers" (those that are most verbal naturally) and many others will not say a word.    Consider this recommendation:

    • Conduct a survey asking people specifically what type of communication would suit them best-- are they looking for daily updates, a monthly team meeting, continuous improvement teams, etc.   Use their input to formulate an action plan going forward.

    Our HR team spends time each week "walking the floor" with no purpose other than to say hi to people, answer questions they have, and ward off issues while they are small.  This approach, which includes working off-shift hours to catch all employees, has helped improve our communication tremendously.  We encourage managers and supervisors to do the same- it's not just "HR's job" to ensure communication works.

     We've also placed a Q & A white board in our main hallway.  It's divided in half with black tape.  On the left side, employees can write comments, voice concerns, or write a question.  On the right side, someone from management will respond.  The only caveat is that the comment or question must be initialed and dated.

    Hope these ideas help...

    Kristy Martin

  • Don't forget to share the responsibility of improving communication with your managers.  If you are not having any luck as "HR" and the scores are still low, talk to the managers and get them make it a priority too. 
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