Communications a la MODE: Engaging a Multigenerational Workforce

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By Bernadette Smith

Effective communication in the workplace is critically important to keeping employees engaged and focused on achieving results. It is the means by which performance expectations are set, relationships develop, trust grows, and collaboration is enabled to get things done. It takes on many forms and occurs at all levels of the organization. Making the right choice in selecting a communication method is further complicated with four generations in the workplace with diverse preferences. Finding the right balance of communication vehicles to appeal to your employee base will enhance your communication effectiveness.

Study Reveals Room to Improve
In 2013, Canadian Management Centre (CMC) partnered with Ipsos Reid to release the findings from a national employee engagement study that revealed that only ’46 per cent of all Canadians were satisfied with internal communications in their workplace’, identifying a need for real improvement.

It’s important that employees receive a timely flow of information about changes and workplace initiatives, especially when it impacts them. Communication of relevant information at the right time enables employees to focus on the right priorities, projects and tasks to serve the best interests of their organization and their customers. Ineffective communication results in confusion, conflict and a misdirection of resources, leading to lost productivity, poor quality and service, difficult interpersonal relationships among leaders and employees, and ultimately a decrease in employee engagement and organizational performance.

Driving Employee Engagement
Leadership and communication are key drivers of employee engagement.  Leaders are the creators who build and promote a culture of open communication and collaboration in their workplace.  They play a critical role in sharing the organization’s vision, what’s happening across the workplace and ensuring the flow of communication between leaders and employees. When communication is effective and timely, they build trust and confidence in leadership, create buy-in and motivate employees by clearly connecting the work they do to business priorities. The more connected employees are to the business itself, the more likely they are to go above and beyond to achieve the desired results.

The proliferation of social media vehicles in the last several years has changed the way people communicate at home and at work. These new channels have created new opportunities for organizations in internal and external communications, including building employee engagement, recruiting, learning, collaboration and public relations.

Connecting By Generation
The challenge, however, is choosing the right balance of social media vehicles over the more traditional forms of communication to appeal to the preferences of all generations of employees currently in the workplace. A ‘one size fits all’ approach is no longer appropriate, so how do you maximize your message impact across this diverse group?

Each generation has communication method preferences based on what they have grown accustomed to. Even though these preferences are stereotypical and may vary by individual, having awareness of potential differences is helpful in choosing appropriate vehicles.

Baby Boomers generally prefer in-person discussions and face-to-face meetings. E-mails are good sources of information for them too. On the other hand, Gen Xers prefer to start the exchange of information with an e-mail and, for efficiency, follow-up with in-person communications if necessary.

Millennials need a bite-sized approach to communication with a more frequent flow of information.  Contrary to popular belief, they do not completely rely on social media, nor do they want to be communicated to through those vehicles exclusively. Like their Boomer colleagues, they appreciate in-person interactions, but prefer short duration touch points via different modes. A multi-modal approach to disseminating organizational information to this diverse audience will improve the effectiveness of communication overall.

Communicating Preferences
The methods of communication used in Canadian organizations is expansive. They range from the more common methods of email, phone, face-to-face meetings, and company intranets to newer social media tools. While there is a belief that the usage of the newer tools is widespread, our national research shows that the proportion of Canadians who actively use these tools in the workplace is very small.

Employees still prefer to use the more traditional methods of communication like All-staff e-mails (74 per cent), Face-to-face meetings (64 per cent) and Telephone (31 per cent) compared to Social Media (4 per cent), LinkedIn (1 per cent) and Podcasts (1 per cent). The top methods used and preferred by Highly Engaged Employees are consistent with the general employee population as well.

Communications a la MODE
Choosing the method of communication is just as important as creating the message. Leaders will use their communication skills to inform, instruct, inspire, influence or inquire. The modes chosen should be linked to your desired outcome, the message that is being delivered and the target group receiving the communication.

Canadian Management Centre has created a reference tool called MODE to help evaluate which messages should be delivered face-to-face or through other modes.

M – MESSAGE:  What is the type/topic of the content you are communicating?
O – OUTCOME: What is the expected outcome you desire from this communication?
D – DISTRIBUTION:  Who is the audience?
E – EXPECTED RESPONSE:  How do you anticipate the receivers will respond to the message?

Depending on the situation, a blend of two or more communication modes may be used to appeal to a diverse employee population. As a general guideline, if the following conditions exist the message should be delivered face-to-face or in a live virtual vehicle if face-to-face is not an option:

MESSAGE:  if the message is negative or sensitive
OUTCOME:  resolving a misunderstanding
DISTRIBUTION:  the relationship is new or fragile
EXPECTED RESPONSE:  you expect an unfavourable response or need immediate feedback

Social Media Savvy Supports
Social media vehicles can play a role in enhancing information sharing internally and externally as well as in improving collaboration in the workplace. Given that our researched shared that social media vehicles are not a preferred choice among employees, they still can be used to enhance mainstream workplace messages like policy changes, project updates and newsletters shared through the company intranet, e-mail or face-to-face discussions first. Links can be attached to internal discussion forums or breakout rooms where employees can brainstorm ideas or offer their feedback. Some CEO’s use blogs to share news and invite comments from employees.  These vehicles enable employees to have a voice and to contribute their ideas.

Public vehicles like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are more appropriate for sharing organizational information with external stakeholders like issuing PR releases, gathering customer feedback and marketing intelligence and promoting events for example.

Collaborative technologies like Google Drive or Yammer enable individuals and teams to work more effectively together. They build relationships, encourage brainstorming and innovation and improve knowledge sharing among colleagues as well. They work well with globally dispersed groups where teams can work on projects across time zones. Social media vehicles will rise in popularity as organizations recognize the value that they can bring to improving workplace productivity.

While there is not one perfect approach to delivering effective communication, it is important to understand your unique employee base and how they prefer to receive timely information that impacts them. Taking a multi-modal approach will improve your message delivery effectiveness with a generationally diverse group. Improved communication and collaboration will improve employee engagement and will help set them up for success to achieve business results.

Bernadette Smith is vice president, talent development solutions at Canadian Management Centre (www.cmcoutperform.com)

(PeopleTalk Summer 2014)

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