Communication Skills

Communication Skills

Your company does not need an employee engagement or retention program.  No, you didn’t mis-read that last sentence.  After working with thousands of companies, helping them attract, engage and retain staff I can say with certainty that you do not need a special program to help you engage and retain staff.  All you need to do is to help your line managers better communicate with them.

Few, if any problems can’t be solved with robust communication.  Yet most managers do not communicate with their team frequently enough, don’t know how to communicate effectively or don’t understand what they should communicate about.  This lack of communication can lead to confusion, frustration, mis-understandings or in the worst case, mis-trust.  And of course these issues lower employee engagement and increase employee turnover.

In this article I will outline a simple process that I teach my clients to increase the communication between managers and staff.  This process inevitably has a knock on effect of great job satisfaction (and therefore engagement), increased employee productivity and team cohesion.

I call this process the FFOCCuSed Communications framework:

  • Frequency: Conduct regular, structured feedback sessions
  • Feedback: Elicit open, honest feedback from staff members and give them the praise they desire (and deserve)
  • Objective of Job: Craft KPIs which are relevant to the company and department, actionable and achievable by the staff member and then hold them accountable for accomplishing those KPIs
  • Career Development: Understand how the staff member wants to grow within their career and how you can provide those opportunities internally instead of having them look externally
  • Currencies of Choice:  Do your managers really know what drives and motivates their teams?   These intrinsic motivators are far more powerful that money.
  • Strengths: Help your staff understand what they are truly good at and help them exploit those abilities and manage their weaknesses for greater productivity and job satisfaction


The first and most important hurdle you will need to overcome is to convince your managers that they need regular, structured communications session with their staff.  Why don’t managers talk to staff frequently enough?  Several reasons:

  • They are too busy doing their “day job”
  • The don’t talk to their Critical People (high performers) because they don’t have any problems with them
  • They don’t talk to their Squeaky Wheels (problem employees) because they want to avoid uncomfortable conversations

This article is not the forum to address concerns around the first and third reasons, but there are heaps of resources available to overcome these obstacles.  I’d like to address the second reason specifically, because it’s actually counter-intuitive.

“Don’t fix it if it’s not broke” is the adage that many managers ascribe to.  My clients consistently ask me, “Why should I spend time with the people that can take care of themselves?  The people that I rely on to take care of themselves?”  My answer is always the same, two-part answer.  First of all, because if you don’t, they may not understand how important they actually are to you which can lead to frustration, hurt feelings and even a sense that they aren’t appreciated.  I found this out first hand while I was working as a recruiter.  The number of people who walked through my office looking for a new role because they didn’t feel appreciated by their boss was astonishing.  Even more so when I personally knew their boss and knew first hand how much (s)he appreciated them.

The second reason was discovered by the Gallup Organization.  Their research shows that if managers spend 80% of their time with the top 10 – 20% of their staff they will become even more productive and engaged.  And the saying, “a rising tide lifts all boats” certainly fits here.  If you empower those of your staff who really want to perform they will help you manage the others.

So, how frequently is frequent?  I suggest at least monthly, structured sessions.  I say at least because some of your staff will want more.  People are motivated to a greater or lesser extent by internal challenge or external recognition.  Those motivated purely by internal challenge probably won’t want to meet with you at all.  Those by external recognition will want to meet with you all the time.  But most people fall somewhere in the middle, so find out what they would like.  If the meetings are more frequent than monthly they need to be short, sharp and to the point.

The monthly sessions should be more structured and should cover these specific topics.  You don’t need to cover all topics in each session.  I put my clients on a rolling calendar so they are covering each of these at least 3 – 4 times per year.


It’s important that feedback be two way.  One of the services that I provide my clients is an employee engagement and retention diagnostic.  There are very few universal findings from this diagnostic, but the area of praise is certainly one of them.  The vast majority of the employees that I have surveyed do not feel appreciated enough for the job they do.  Praise, it seems is a scarce commodity in the Australian workplace.  So if they are doing a good job, let them know.

Conversely one of the key factors in employee engagement of course is the ability to have your say.  Help your line managers to be more receptive of their staff’s feedback.  Who knows?  They may just come up with a brilliant idea that makes a huge difference for the team or company!

Objective of Job

The first question on the Gallup Q12 is “Do you know what is expected of you at work?”  And I’m shocked at just how many people don’t.  I saw it as a recruiter and I’m certainly seeing it working as a consultant.  Why?  Because very few have tangible, measurable KPIs  or job objectives to strive for.

Why are objectives important? Because, as we’ve seen in the Q12, employees need to know what is expected of them and how success is measured.  But more than that, people are naturally goal oriented and need something concrete to strive for to feel a sense of certainty.  Goals or objectives can also give them a sense of how they fit into the overall company direction.  They give you a common language to use with your staff and the gap between where they are and where they need to be presents an opportunity to performance manage early, quickly and effectively.

Here are my tips for setting and articulating robust objectives:

  • Set no more than 5 – 7 with varying time lines ranging between 30 days and regular process oriented tasks that need to be done routinely
  • Specifically articulate what needs to be done and leave them to the how
  • Make sure they cover several areas including people (team or co-workers), financial (can they do something to directly impact the bottom line?) and process (routine but important tasks like time sheets or expense reports).

Career Development

Many studies list career development within the top 3 factors that employees gauge to determine whether to stay with their current employer or look for another job.   Yet many managers avoid this topic like the plague for 1 of 3 reasons:

  • They themselves don’t understand how to manage their own careers
  • They are afraid that if they help their staff manage their career better they will surpass them on the corporate ladder
  • They are afraid to talk about career development because they don’t feel they can meet the employee’s expectations.  This is especially true in smaller companies or niche functions where there is not a lot of vertical career opportunity available.

I am not going to address the second reason here as there is not an easy fix for this issue.  It is one, however that should be addressed with the manager as quickly as possible.

I would like to talk about the first and third reasons because they are linked.  After interviewing over 5,000 candidates during my 15 year recruitment career I can say that the vast majority of people don’t know how to manage their careers.  Most, simply go through doors that are opened to them at the time, one door at a time, without any thought of where their path might take them.  Unfortunately for many this path leads to a plateau or dead end.  It’s then that the individual looks for another path – another job.

Helping staff manage their careers makes good business sense.  Helping them understand what opportunities exist within your company (something they may not recognise without your help) will inhibit them looking outside of if.

So my advice here is to help your managers manage their own careers first and then help them have the appropriate conversation with their staff.  Which brings me to the third point of avoidance above.  Many managers are afraid of addressing limited career opportunities with  their staff.  The assumption here is that all staff are interested in vertical career development, climbing the corporate ladder if you will. But that simply isn’t true.  Many people want to manage career around family or just want to do interesting work in a good company with people they like.

Find out what their career priorities are and have open, honest conversations around how your company can help them achieve those, even with any constraints you may have.  Help them find internal opportunities to learn, grow and develop and they will at least delay, if not avoid looking for external ones.

Currencies of Choice

As author Dan Pink says, “There is a disconnect between what science knows and what business does”.  Science has known for awhile that people are much more highly motivated by intrinsic factors, what I call “Currencies of Choice” than by extrinsic ones such as remuneration.

Find out what your employee’s drivers are and then meet them or manage their expectations as to why you can’t.

Pink uses the framework of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose, which is a nice, simple place to start.  But whatever you use, it’s important to recognise what truly drives your staff as individuals.


According to Gallop, teams whose members play to their Strengths most of the time are:

  • 50% more likely to have low employee turnover
  • 38% more likely to be highly productive
  • 44% more likely to earn high customer satisfaction scores

What’s a strength?  I like to think of it as an innate ability or behavioural pattern that is neurologically hard wired into our brain between the ages of 3 and 15.  The context of the behaviour will change over time, but the pattern remains the same.  So those children who  share their toys in the sand pit at the age of 5 may very well become 15 year olds who volunteer their time in school to help tutor less academically gifted students.  And 20 years on they may become the 35 year olds who are the most collaborative in the workplace.  The context changes, the behaviour remains consistent.

If you can help your staff identify those behaviours that come naturally to them and work more in those areas and less in those that don’t you’ll find your staff become much less stress, more engaged and, of course more productive.  And this doesn’t take a major shift.  Marcus Buckingham, who was involved in the original Gallup research, says that just 2 hours per week will make a huge difference.

So don’t spend a lot of time and money on “Engagement” programs.  Just encourage your managers to be more engaged with their staff by communicating more frequently about the things that really matter – to them.

Kim Seeling Smith

Kim Seeling Smith is the founder and Chief Engagement Officer of Ignite Global, a consultancy whose mission is to deliver the much needed breakthroughs in attracting, engaging and retain staff in today’s Social Age.  Originally trained as a CPA and Management Consultant with KPMG, Kim subsequently spent 15 years working as a recruiter and studying why some companies are great at staff retention while others constantly battle staff turnover.

Contact: 0299535655 / 0402773286

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