Tighten up at the top

In an organisation in which the quality, quantity and regularity of communication between management and employees has been left largely to the discretion of managers and supervisors, standards in different areas will vary tremendously.

Employees in one area will be fortunate enough to work for a manager who knows that communication and motivation go hand in hand.  Although not directed to do so from above, he will be taking initiatives, keeping people informed, consulting with them, discussing work problems and welcoming their ideas.

In another area employees will be working for a manager who, for one reason of another, tells them as little as possible.  This may be because he regards possession of information a privilege of management.  He may view it as a status symbol.  It may be that the manager genuinely believes that employees have no interest at work other than the size of their pay packet.

Or he assumes that communicating with the workforce isn’t part of his job  – if senior management want the workforce to know anything, then senior management will tell them.  As he sees it, his job is to get people to do the tasks assigned to them.  Having told them what those tasks are, more time spent communicating is time wasted!

Between those extremes are managers and supervisors who communicate with employees on an “as-and-when” basis.  That means “as”  something occurs which makes communication necessary – and “when” there is time.  Different criteria are applied to decide what is necessary and whether there is time to talk employees or listen to them.  The easy way out is to circulate a memo, or post a notice on the board, or leave it to more senior management to include it in the team briefing.

So the grapevine flourishes and employee morale varies considerably from department to department.  Employee morale is a direct function of the extent to which managers and supervisors keep employees informed and listen to their ideas and opinions.

High standards of communication must be set and maintained at the top of the organisation.  Insufficient attention and discipline at senior management level is frequently the root cause of blockages, resistance and apathy down the line.

Whether starting from scratch or injecting new life into an established programme, it is advisable for the MD to instruct all members of senior management to write and submit within one month (maximum) a brief report in which they summarise the following:

1.    How he/she manages communication in the department;  in particular, how regularly he provides information about progress, aims and objectives, changes in methods or personnel and plans for the immediate future.

2.    How he/she announces decisions, how explanation of the reasoning behind those decisions is offered and what opportunities employees have to question anything they don’t understand.

•    How subordinate managers ensure that information and explanations go right down the line to all employees affected

•    How subordinate managers keep supervisors “in the picture”.

3.    How he/she ensures that all subordinate managers know

•    Precisely what is expected of them

•    What standards of performance are expected of them

•    The criteria against which their standards of performance are judged.

4.    Who acts in his/her absence and how this information has been passed down the line to all subordinate managers and supervisors.

5.    Who acts in the absence of each subordinate manager and supervisor (all by name)

•    Who is accountable for what and to whom

•    How somebody else, who might need to know, can actually find out quickly who is responsible and accountable for what and to whom.

This exercise, having been initiated at the top, is a quick and efficient way of finding out where communication is good and, in some areas, possibly dreadful.  It is NOT a lesson in humiliation.  Care must be taken not to expose any manager to ridicule.  Comparisons are odious.

What the exercise will show is the need for a uniformly high standard to be applied in all areas, and disciplines agreed to keep it that way.  Communication practices soon deteriorate if they are not actively maintained and routinely monitored.

Some senior managers may not be able to submit more than sketchy outline answers to certain points, possibly no answer to other points.  That doesn’t matter.  The important thing is that they will have realised, without having been told,  that they are neglecting an important management function.

Therefore, when communication disciplines are established throughout the management structure, they will understand the necessity.


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