Open Communication
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Open Up Office Communication  

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: I want to encourage open communication with my employees. Do you have any tips for making that happen?

A: Regular, open, and honest communication with staffers is essential for demonstrating respect and fostering trust between you and your team. Gallup research into what employees value most (summarized in a great book, First, Break All the Rules, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman) showed that workers want to know as much as possible about their organization—the good and the bad.

There are so many ways to communicate that it’s almost hard to know where to start. Here are a few tips:

Use your IT tools. If you have an intranet, this is a great place to post current information for employees to see. I love the idea of having a new message pop up as soon as employees log in for the day—it could be an update on a project or a motivational saying or an invitation to an ice cream social in the parking lot on Friday afternoon.

Employees need to know they can approach you when they have a question or a concern. They shouldn’t have to wait until the next staff meeting if they need an answer. 

Have an open-door policy. Employees need to know they can approach you when they have a question or a concern. They shouldn’t have to wait until the next staff meeting if they need an answer. I once worked for a manager who requested that, if I needed to see her, I had to send her the question 24 hours in advance, and I had to ask her assistant to schedule a meeting. Sometimes it was weeks before I would get on her calendar. As you can imagine, communication was pretty bad in that organization.

Meet at least weekly with your department staff. If people telecommute, have them come in on the day of the meeting, or arrange for them to participate electronically. Have an agenda and stick to it so meetings don’t drag on, but always allow time for questions.

Meet at least every two weeks with each of your direct reports. This gives the employee a chance to provide an update on the status of work projects and to raise any concerns, and it gives you an opportunity to share regular feedback.

Hold frequent “all hands” meetings led by your CEO, where the entire organization gets together in person or remotely via videoconferencing or other tools. This is where the boss shares the exciting news of a new product or a new employee coming on board, or the occasional bit of bad news. The CEO should take questions directly from employees so they know the responses are spontaneous. An alternative is to ask for questions in advance, but the CEO shouldn’t screen them and answer only the ones he or she likes.

Hone your listening skills. If your employees know they are being heard, they will share more with you. And that is when true communication happens.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].

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