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How to make two-way communication a workplace priority

7.5 min read

Would you rather work for a company where everything is a secret or where you feel like you’re in the loop and know the plan? Should family members be forging ahead with decisions and actions based on assumptions and intuition, or should the long-term plan be transparent and known to all involved?

These kinds of questions can help frame a review of a workplace communication strategy. At the most basic level, communication in the workplace empowers family and non-family team members to know what the team is looking to accomplish and what their role is in meeting these goals.

Your leadership style and the example you set as a communicator combined with the workplace culture are the two biggest factors driving the amount, quality and benefits of communication. As a leader, consider taking stock of how you and your team are currently communicating and how you might share information with staff on an ongoing basis. Whether it’s a formal weekly or monthly update, or informal discussions one on one with staff, keeping your team in the loop can help build engagement and stimulate new ideas and feedback from employees.

Consider these key communication checkpoints:

  • Are you communicating effectively, clearly and proactively with your team? Are members of your team comfortable approaching their leader or manager with ideas, concerns, or questions?

  • Think about how rumours and conjecture can harm team morale and motivation. The goal is to have engaged employees. This isn’t achieved by keeping everyone on a need-to-know basis. Your team wants to know how the company is doing and understand the future business goals and vision.

  • Consider that good employees want feedback, and this goes beyond formal performance reviews and training. A good leader knows when a compliment or good word is warranted. Similarly, a quick mention of an observed bad habit can avoid a bigger problem in the future.

  • Think about how a healthy, two-way communication process can be entrenched in your workplace culture.

Hearing versus listening

You may be hearing feedback and concerns from your team, but are you listening? If nothing ever comes of communication from your team, they’ll start to question why they are making an effort to share what’s on their minds. Taking the time to listen is only half the process. If you truly hear their ideas, there should be signals back to the team supporting or qualifying the feedback. Not taking advantage of team member’s eyes, ears and brains sends a message that communication is a one-way street – you’re only doing half the job.

The same thought process applies to messages coming from the leader. Are you broadcasting information or truly communicating? If your communication style is to blast information to the team without checking for engagement and buy-in, you’re only halfway there. Are you following up to make sure instructions and expectations are clear and sinking in?

Engagement is the magic word, and it’s required by both the leader and team members. Communication breaks down if either side is distracted or stressed or the message is unclear.

Leaders need to monitor and encourage employee engagement. Here are 5 suggestions to help employees stay interested, responsive and motivated.

  1. Let employees help. If it’s not your specialty, delegate it to someone else.

  2. Help employees in need. Find a way to support valued team members who need help outside of work.

  3. Provide regular feedback. Make every opportunity to connect with team members on a day-to-day basis.

  4. Promote consistent engagement. Regularly scheduled team-building activities make everyone feel part of the planning process.

  5. Leverage strengths. Instead of correcting weaknesses, put energy towards helping team members maximize their strengths.

For a more in-depth explanation, read the full article, Top five ways farm CEOs can engage employees.

Using all the channels

There have never been more ways to communicate, and this can be a double-edged sword. If the goal is to make communication in the workplace easy, efficient, effective and part of the culture, it can be helpful to take advantage of different communication channels. The COVID pandemic challenged many businesses to adapt to new realities and take advantage of alternatives to in-person interaction. These include using real-time online meetings, social media, internal electronic team communication via apps, more email and even text messaging.

It’s great to have all these options, but it can make it much harder for a leader or manager to control team communication, both internally within the team and externally to clients. Regardless of which channels are employed, leaders need to find a way to make communication as consistent and organized as possible. For example, using digital tools like texting or Slack may be acceptable for day-to-day task-oriented communication. But face-to-face interaction could be the best practice for more complex or impactful conversations.

Find a comfort zone for meetings

The word meeting can conjure up mental images of a boardroom, dress code and PowerPoint presentations. But, what it really means is to connect in whatever way is optimal as a team to identify priorities, assign tasks and responsibilities, voice concerns and have everyone on the same page.

For a crop harvesting team, it can be coffee and donuts on the tailgate of a pickup first thing in the morning to map out the plan for the day – it might take 15 minutes. Where will they move to after this field is done? Who’s running to get parts? Who’s responsible for choosing if they should wait for dryer grain moisture or go full steam ahead? It’s about deciding what needs to be done and who is responsible for doing it.

Whether the meeting is in-person, a conference call or an online Zoom meeting, keep the appropriate focus for each type. Quick hitter meetings held daily or weekly are about getting the day-to-day tasks done. These aren’t meant to be strategy or long-range planning sessions, so don’t get bogged down with big picture discussions. Create monthly or quarterly planning sessions to explore or discuss longer-term objectives and planning.

Having an agenda for each meeting, even if it’s just the plan for the day, keeps everyone on track and away from rabbit holes. The leader’s job is to facilitate and create an environment and process where everyone sees the meeting as an opportunity to clarify responsibilities and share their thoughts and ideas. Good meetings result in clarity and confidence for employees and enhanced productivity.

There may be situations where it makes sense to have someone outside the team sit in as a moderator or facilitator. If the leader becomes entrenched in a sensitive and ongoing discussion with the team, it may be difficult to both participate and remain an effective moderator. Having someone from outside the team act as a moderator can help keep emotions in check and make the meeting productive.

Use communication to monitor mental health

One specific aspect of communication has been overlooked by many farm or business leaders, and the costs are enormous. Good employers are responsive to an employee’s needs if they’re sick or injured. There may be benefits in place to help, or the operation will provide flexibility and support to help the team member through a difficult time. But what about mental health? In many cases, it’s viewed differently or ignored altogether.

A successful business communication strategy should aspire to address mental illness across the company. Are there communication channels open to employees to talk about mental health challenges if they arise? Are leaders building the skills required to potentially spot signs that a team member might be struggling? Does the company emphasize their support for mental illness in the workplace and encourage employees to reach out and ask for help?

If an employee is not working to their usual standards and interaction with the team is decreased or problematic, leaders can adopt the rule out rule. This is a simple conversation to try and determine what is behind the change in performance and behaviour and to reiterate to the team member that if they are struggling with mental health challenges, there are resources available in the wellness section on the FCC website and from organizations like Do More Ag.

For farmers focused on getting the day-to-day work done, it may require a shift in thinking to be mindful of the impacts that mental health issues can have on the business. It starts with paying attention and a willingness to listen if an employee or family member wants to talk. For the leader, it’s not about telling the employee what they should do – it’s more about providing support and pointing them towards appropriate resources. And it’s not just employees that can experience mental health challenges. Leaders often carry stress and have a personality that makes it hard to admit they need help. Monitor the team and monitor yourself.

In the next article, we’ll focus on being aware of legal responsibilities as an employer and avoiding some of the common mistakes.

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