Keep communication channels open

August 8, 2008
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, NAIROBI, August 8 – In the Leadership training courses I conduct, performance problems and situations are often raised. Whilst there are many causes, the importance of communication is always highlighted. Dealing with long-term performance problems can be a difficult process.

Whilst I would argue that good recruitment and selection processes should avoid any problems, the three month probation clause provides a simple escape mechanism, provided the communication issues are addressed.

Often, dismissal/termination is not necessary. Good communication, clarification of roles, clear statement of expectations – all help avoid performance problems. The essential management and leader role is to act quickly.

Many unfair dismissal cases have been won by employees when they claimed they did not know there was a problem. It is not fair and reasonable for an employer to put up with below standard performance for months, and even years, and then suddenly decide to take drastic disciplinary action.

There are numerous situations where a performance problem has been "swept under the carpet" because the team leader or manager involved does not know how to address the situation.

A failure to act only makes matters worse for both the employee and the employer.

To maximise communication and performance, the approach should be as follows:

3.Use sound recruitment and selection processes to hire people with the required knowledge, skills and aptitude.
4.Ensure full and proper induction of new employees, ensuring good training and performance monitoring.
5.Use the probation period to assess performance and provide employee feedback.
6.Confirm employment and provide regular informal and formal learning and performance feedback opportunities.

The essential ingredient is good communication, whether it is formal or informal.
Demotivated staff fall into two groups. Those who are committed to the cause but don\’t know what they are doing, and those who have great intellectual energy but lack commitment.  By building a clear understanding of your company’s objectives, one will get more of an emotional commitment to the business, consequently productivity should rise,

Re-motivating the demotivated also means giving regular feedback on the progress of the Company itself to the staff through meetings and emails from the top-tier management. There is also the need to give staff the chance to give their feedback to management. Apart from helping them feel involved with the business it is also enlightening for the management who get to hear things straight from the coalface.

There is need to maximise face-to-face communication between management and staff. Many would of-course claim that this is easier in smaller businesses, where the entrepreneur who started the company tends to be more visible, and offers day-to-day leadership, as in my situation. However, no matter the scale of the organization, its important not to forget to talk to people, particularly during difficult trading conditions. When organizations come under financial pressure, managers tend to disappear into their offices, but they must keep communicating, and this I know from past experience.

There is also the need to be honest about the Company’s financial position. That doesn’t mean handing out detailed profit and loss forecasts, just an appraisal of where the company is and where it needs to be. Employees are pretty well educated, or its believed they are hence their engagement with the company, and they can be cynical about communications that don\’t match up to their perception of how the business is going.

Lastly is the aspect of performance management.  Having an appraisal once a year isn\’t enough. Worse, people feel they are being judged, when management should be telling them what they can do to help the business.

A great deal of management\’s current concern for employee productivity and the need to empower people has revolved around the use of teams. No doubt teams have enhanced productivity and employee relations, but one should never assume that teams are the singular, correct path toward empowerment. Sometimes individual effort rather than group effort is needed. But more often what is required is the simplest need of all – communication.

Top management and company leaders need to recognize the importance of communication. However, through listening to countless local executives in the local media, I do believe that they think communicating is extremely important to the success of their business, but do they really do it? Perhaps many CEOs and other top managers prefer the company of their peers to those who do not share their perspectives. Perhaps, like generals on the battlefield, they are more fascinated with strategy than with tactics. Regardless of the reason, it is extremely rare to find CEOs or other top management leaders who actively seek out a down-in-the-trenches perspective.

It’s time to talk the business walk!

Magu Ngumo is a Lead Consultant with Indicative Solutions, a local management communications and training company. He can be reached at [email protected]  and viewed on http://www.indicative.co.ke

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