Build better lines of communication with employees through listening and feedback

Employers aim to protect the substantial investments they make in employee development, but this can be undone if they do not accept employee feedback.

The process of hiring and developing employees is critical in determining the ability of a company to successfully operate and expand. Most businesses recognize that all new employees are beginners, even if they have substantial experience. Most firms realize the need to orient the new employee along with providing mentoring to get the employee off to a good start. In return the new employee generally responds by putting their best efforts into adapting to the new company processes and culture. Some firms go beyond orientation and actively assist the new employee in professional development, such as encouraging participation and paying for additional education through related workshops and seminars on company time.

After the initial orientation period, communication becomes very important in the retention of good employees. This is the period in which trust is developed between the manager and the employee. The trust development period is critical. Many times, trust is not established resulting in decreased work performance and possibly premature employee turnover. On many occasions, the failure to establish trust is related to the inability or unwillingness of the manager to receive feedback and communicate with the employee.

Managers must begin the communication process with the understanding that they will make better decisions by listening to others. The manager must also face the fact that they do not always have the best answer to fix the problem at hand. Seeking out the perspective of others may result in a better fix to a problem. Active listening and when appropriate, using the information received from the employee to make a decision will more importantly result in the establishment and maintenance of trust. Managers and owners can take three steps to improve communications and build trust with their employees.

First, the manager can actively listen. When an employee is speaking what do you concentrate on? Do you think about your response or do you listen carefully to the words that are being said? One tip would be to recap what the employee has just been said, before responding with an answer. This small step clears up misconceptions before they become larger and potentially more damaging to the business.

Secondly, effective managers and owners are seeking out opportunities to communicate effectively. Team meetings, either formally scheduled or impromptu, are good ways to learn about real or perceived issues and to provide feedback to employees. This is an effective platform for a manager to use to inform employees that their work contributions are appreciated.

Finally, effective owners and managers use the proper channel to communicate. Effective companies set out expectations in written documents like an employee handbook with policies and procedures clearly outlined. Written communication is powerful and sets a tone of seriousness. Written communication should not be taken lightly, especially when working with an employee to overcome performance issues.

Following these tips will help to set a tone for clearing misunderstandings between owners, managers and employees. Good communication provides the basis for building trust and developing productive employees. Extension Educators at Michigan State University Extension and Innovation Counselors at the Michigan State University Product Center assist businesses in the establishment of good practices to improve business effectiveness. For further information and assistance with employee communications please contact your local MSU Extension office.

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