How many times have you heard that communication is key in an ever-changing work environment? How many times have you uttered under your breath: “Not again?
Don’t stop reading this just because “communication is key” has become a tired phrase. Instead, hear what these three experts – one a human resources guru, one a serial entrepreneur and one an academician who helped change an aerospace company – have to say about bringing a cliché to life.
Also consider the words “leadership,” “listening,” and “texting,” and here you’ll have some insight into managing and adapting to change whether you own a company or you work for one.
Communicate Why the Change is Needed
“The most important thing about communication is to be absolutely certain it occurred,” said Jack Milligan, who has spent more than 40 years learning about “human capital” as a human resources expert. He is president of Leathers Milligan Associates, an organization and leadership development firm in Phoenix.
It could be in the form of a sticky note thanking someone for a job well done to a town hall meeting between company owners and staff to texting your Millennial employees to attend that town hall meeting, said Dr. Jennifer Scott, who is part of the core faculty in Northcentral University’s School of Business and Technology Management.
Scott spent 24 years in the aerospace industry during the time that Allied Signal was bought by Honeywell and staff went from 300,000 to 100,000 employees before moving into higher education.
“Employers need to communicate why change is needed and have the data to back it up,” Scott said. And then they need to reach out to staff in meaningful ways be they baby boomers, Gen X or Millennials.
The boss and other company leaders need to actually talk with employees when change is coming and not just send out emails. “Get employees involved. Get them away from their normal task and get face-to-face with them to talk about the change,” she said.
Milligan offered another look at overall staffing and who helps the most with change. Beyond the top 10 percent of people in the company who already are on board, and the bottom 10 percent who might as well look for another job, he said the middle 80 percent “is the gold mine for every organization to move themselves up and to the right on a sustainability graph. They do that by educating themselves and you must invest in them.”
“Change is constant, especially today with technology changing seemingly weekly. Employer and employee must be diligent in keeping up and sharpening their state-of-the-art skills and knowledge. Employees must keep their attitudes flexible and their skills honed through professional organizations and certifications, or their skills will start to atrophy.”
—Jack Milligan, President of Leathers Milligan Associates
“Whether you are a butcher, a baker, work for Apple, for a foundry or are on the edge of technology, you must be aware of the changes going on in your business.”
Know What Motivates People
Employees’ three priorities are themselves, their families and their professions and employers must find ways to know at any given time what is going with an employee to get maximum return from them.
Employers need to be aware more than ever before of the “human capital” it takes to run a successful business, Milligan said. It is the employer’s responsibility to be responsible, “to keep themselves at a place where human capital constantly keeps them in a competitive situation. Everyone can compete for the latest software, scarce resources, what you have as the one differentiator in a business is the human capital.”
“It is always the employer’s responsibility to dig as deep as they can to find out about the employee.”
Companies minimize problems with implementing change when they hire right, Milligan said. “Once you get that asset on board, communicate with them. You (the business) must care about their top three priorities and realize people can get overwhelmed and sidetracked, then you remind them that you have their best interests at heart.”
“If they don’t see a synergistic relationship with their personal goals then it will be just a temporary situation,” he said.
Leadership Needs to Take Accountability
“Show me a leadership with all their hearts and minds in the right place, I’ll show you a strong company,” Milligan said. These people are sensitive to the human capital. “You need to connect the individual sustainability formula to the corporate sustainability formula and if you do, they won’t just follow you, they’ll catapult you to the right side of the graph.”Lippert put it this way, “Enlightened companies are doing better; these companies are outperforming others dramatically. There is no room for yelling and screaming anymore.”Milligan said a good leader has the ability to listen, merge data and head off in the right direction. “Mediocre and bad leaders aren’t anywhere near as flexible in their ability to communicate, ask the right questions in that environment, and at that time.”
He pointed out that most good leaders don’t have a rigid operating style. They also don’t have to be charismatic or compelling. But they do have that “elusive quality of asking the right questions and being a good listener.” And, they surround themselves with good people who also ask the right questions.
If you want your employees on board, break down the change into workable chunks and give them a timeline, NCU’s Scott said. “Even a sticky note on a computer can help. Just acknowledge them; people like to be acknowledged.”
Manage to Generational Communication Differences
Part of getting employees to embrace and prosper with change is to talk to all levels of employees – “let everyone be involved,” she said. “Push the decision-making to the lowest level, find out from them what needs to be improved, and what needs to be changed. They are the ones that make it happen.”
The world today is more participatory, Scott pointed out. Instead of veterans and Baby Boomers who were told what to do and did it, “this generation is more geared to their feelings and their happiness.The Millennials move on in two or three years to be happier.”
They also can shift gears readily and employers need to use the tools of the time from Skyping to webinars to texting, and any other preferred method to communicate with them.
Lippert said the way to reach Millennials and Gen Xers is to realize they want their work to be meaningful; they want to change the world. They might embrace your change if you know enough to give them paid work time off to work at Habitat for Humanity, or another community cause, for example.
Leaders Need to Walk Around and Connect
Leaders must be more focused on retention through recognition and rewards and know they must constantly “sell the opportunity to stay with me.” “People don’t quit companies, they quit bosses,” Lippert said. Gone are the days when bosses can afford to think their employees should feel lucky just to have a job. “People don’t necessarily have to work for a company today – often it’s more a collaboration on projects in this new economy.”
Sometimes staying connected is as easy as leaders simply walking the hallways.
Communication is about maintaining a dialogue and leadership – leaders have to do the right thing every day. employers should use the tools that determine how an organization is working and then take the steps to change. Employers should use the tools that determine how an organization is working and then take the steps to change.”
The most significant aspect about companies adapting to change and helping their staff navigate it, is to be aware that “your people are an asset, not a labor expense,” Lippert said. “Investing in people, getting them engaged … that will improve return.”