The leadership/staff communication gap creeps up on leaders overnight. In the early stages of growth, it’s very easy for the leader to communicate often and effectively with all employees. In fact, people often refer to their companies in early growth stages as “family.” It’s easy to bring in lunch when people are working hard, take people out to dinner to celebrate a win and reward employees subjectively when profits allow. When problems arise (employee problems as well as customer problems), it’s easier to identify those issues quickly and deal with them right away.
As a company grows, the dynamics shift. The leader starts to bring in more experienced people. The people that were with the leader from the beginning can feel threatened by new, more experienced people. The family atmosphere begins to erode because the leader must demand and put in place systems, expectations and profit goals to keep this new and much more complex organization on track.
A company that is growing can no longer rely on the historical mental data banks of trusted employees. Processes have to be captured into manuals and into systems. It becomes necessary to create performance plans to be able to reward employees with pay increases—the days of dropping $500 on a dinner as an incentive pay plan doesn’t cut it anymore. The leadership/staff communication gap grows because communication is harder. Information has to be shared, and it has to be consistent, easy to access and easy to update. Managers are put in place and employees that have been there the longest may no longer have direct access to the leader.
How do you know if there is a leadership/staff communication gap in your company? Look for these symptoms:
- Responsibility is abdicated instead of intentionally distributed leaving people wondering what their job duties are.
- Conflict runs rampant.
- People argue instead of collaborate.
- Good people leave.
- People struggle to see the impact of their role in the bigger picture of what the organization does.
- Communication is spotty or non-existent, leaving people to fill in the gaps.
- Power plays go unchecked.
- Roles and Responsibilities evolved but accountabilities haven’t kept pace.
- Leaders play favorites.
It’s typical as a company grows beyond the leader’s reach to see that work is being given out but there is really no supervision or support for how that works gets done. People are just expected to do the work, and when something goes wrong the leader looks back and says “My gosh, they didn’t do a very good job,” or “They didn’t do it the way I would have done it.” While great strides are being made every day on management improvements, and companies are seeing the value in treating their employees with respect instead of as cogs in a wheel, the exacting nature of management requires that someone is the boss and someone is the employee. It immediately sets up an adversarial relationship. It’s a constant battle to break down the barriers that exist between the manager and the employee, and the sooner the business leader recognizes this and takes proactive steps to minimize this reality, the more successful the company will be.
According to Gallup, the percentage of engaged workers in the U.S. declined in 2021. Just over one-third of employees (34%) were engaged. When organizations lose sight of the basics, it is usually around clarity of expectations, and giving employees the opportunity to do what they do best. This can only happen around clear communication.
This challenge happens simply because the company is bigger. Its processes are more complex, the leader has begun to hire more specialists who have specific experience, the new employees want to prove their value and the CEO may not have a lot of experience in the managing of employees. That’s why this challenge is one of the hardest to eliminate. People don’t just become good managers. Good managers are taught, and when a company is in its growth stages, stopping to train people on how to be good managers doesn’t get a lot of prime time.
“You don’t build a business, you build people and people build your business.” —Zig Ziglar
In reality the people are the business, and the tending and feeding of its people is what constitutes good management. The CEO of a growing company needs to become good at managing people. The leader needs to be good at this so he/she can teach the managers to do the same with their staff.
- What are the company’s vision and mission statements?
- What are the company’s core values?
- How would you describe your intentional company communication plan?
- How are employees held accountable to the strategic objectives?
- Do managers conduct one-on-ones with direct reports weekly?
Why this Challenge Must be Resolved:
How does a leadership/staff communication gap impact an organization?
- Low productivity
- High incidents of gossip
- Lack of commitment
- Customer service mistakes
- Project scope creep
- High turnover
- Finger pointing
- Blame placing
- Brand erosion
The issue, in early stages of growth, becomes one of management, not something the CEO has had to do a lot of up to now. This is a new hat for the CEO, and it’s a difficult hat to wear, especially if that leader has not had management responsibility before. Because many CEOs struggle with letting go of control, very quickly they start to lose the support of their staff. The staff, who are working very hard to exercise their own skills as they apply to their job and to flex their independence because they want the CEO to see that they are good at what they do, begin to lose respect and trust in that CEO.
Think about it. If a CEO has hired people based on their ability to do a specific job but they are constantly second-guessed, or worse belittled, when they don’t do something the way the CEO perceives it should have been done, they will rebel. Or they will simply leave. A CEO can find themself dealing with a staff rebellion. That CEO will start to get pushback when direction is provided; that CEO will start to see productivity lag; that CEO will experience higher than normal staff turnover. These are all symptoms of a company that is experiencing a leadership/staff communication gap.
This gap widens if some critical changes aren’t made quickly. Since employees are directed or managed by others, there can be a we/they attitude that exists, especially when leaders assert their authority over their staff. This dynamic is hard to manage, and it takes all of a CEO’s ability to create a culture that rewards teamwork and collaboration, instead of control and power plays.
It is a commonly known statistic that most employees leave a position or a company because of a bad manager. To keep employees, you want to foster great managers. The leadership/staff communication gap starts with the CEO. If that CEO is a good communicator; if that CEO believes in his/her people; if that CEO respects the activity of management as a priority and hires experienced managers and/or trains star performers to be excellent managers, the gap will close. Ignore the activity of management and this one can bring a company to its knees.
How to Overcome this Challenge: The One-On-One
The one-on-one, without a doubt, solve 90% of your leadership/staff communication gaps. As a manager, you need to spend 30 minutes each week with each of your direct reports. The goal behind these meetings is to open up a dialogue between you and your employee. This is not a discussion about projects, not a discussion about what work is being done or not being done. This meeting is all about a manager connecting to an employee and an employee connecting to a manager on a level that creates a dialogue.
This process will break down the barriers that exist between managers and employees every time. Why? Because it’s an opportunity for a manager to appear more human, and it’s an opportunity for an employee to express his/her value.
Here’s how it works:
The manager asks the employee three questions.
- What did you accomplish last week that made you proud?
- What would you like to accomplish next week in order to learn something new?
- How can I help you?
As the manager in this situation, you have to roll this out carefully. Because most managers are only comfortable asking job/project related questions, asking these questions can be challenging and create fear at first.
But if a manager persists in getting employees to respond to these three questions, the relationship between that manager and that employee goes to another level. The employee will also struggle at first answering these questions and the manager needs to be patient but persistent in holding the meeting and in asking the questions.
Managers do communicate with their employees. It’s the quality of that communication that will make a difference in how employees view their contribution to the company. And if employees believe they are contributing value, your company will be more successful.
- How do your team members prefer to receive communication? What are their behavioral styles?
- How does this method of one-on-one meetings differ from your current method of meetings with staff?
- What are the benefits of implementing this exercise into your organization?
- How can we overcome any obstacles or pushback from the implementation of this exercise?
- As a manager how do you provide updates regarding organization/departmental initiatives?
- How are staff members encouraged to provide feedback to leadership?
As the CEO, Look Deeper at Your Communication Abilities
If you are experiencing a leadership/staff communication gap, this would be an excellent time for you to look deeper into your own abilities and see if you need a tune up.
- How are your communication skills? Are you a good listener?
- How effective are you at your own self-assessment?
- Are you an emotionally intelligent leader?
- Have you evaluated your leadership style?
- Do you know how to let go in order to let your company grow?
- Are you holding onto methodologies that no longer work because you are comfortable with them?
- What have you recently let go?
- How would an anonymous organizational development survey help to identify opportunities for improvement and highlight strengths and weaknesses of your organization?
We can help you identify other growth issues that may be building up in your organization through our Stages of Growth X-Ray™. In three distinct ways we can help you prepare for the next stage of growth:
- Online assessments that are stage-specific, people can get to the heart of the strategic growth issues quickly
- Provides a language of growth that gets to the root cause of growth barriers in a short period of time
- Creates alignment around the top issues that everyone agrees must be addressed right away.
Contact us today to start on your course to business growth.