Leadership Disconnect With Employees Hurts Performance

Most PR pros have heard of Edelman’s Trust Barometer, a study that asks the public what their trust levels are in business, government, NGOs, the media, etc. But there are also studies about employees’ trust in their own organizations, one of which was released this September. Interaction Associate’s 2011 Building Trust in Business survey sounds a big warning for businesses and their executive leadership: Even as employees express trust in peers by saying they share and collaborate more easily with colleagues, they remain wary and distrustful of their leaders. Some specifics of the study include:

  • Leaders are faulted in the 2011 survey for not linking employee goals to overall corporate performance – people are not clear about how their work impacts the organization's success, a key demotivator for top performers;
  • Power sharing through delegation is weak – leaders are working 1-2 levels below where they should, employees are not empowered to solve problems independently;
  • Risk-taking generally is not supported – creating environments where innovation can be impeded;
  • Feedback to employees is lacking – for high performers, this has been proven to be a key demotivator.

This data parallel that of a June 2011 study by Harris Interactive and Yammer that found workers uncomfortable with management – 35% said they are extremely or very comfortable sharing ideas, suggestions or feedback with executive or C-level management.

These findings underscore the importance of good internal communications, particularly in a stagnant economy in which companies are striving for better business performance, yet may not be delivering on employee expectations when it comes to leadership. So how can internal communicators better align their leadership with the rank and file?

There's no silver bullet, says Liz Guthridge, managing consultant at Connect Consulting Group. But leaders must be clear about what they do know, what they don't know and what they expect from people, she says. When communicating with employees, especially high-performing ones, Guthridge says leaders/communicators need to first ask themselves these three questions: What's the "what" I need to convey? What's the "so what," as in why should anyone care? And what's the "now what," as in the call to action?

Guthridge says in her work with clients she sees this employee disconnect with leadership all the time. In recent employee surveys she's conducted, when asked about the biggest barriers to successful change, employees name "poor communication" first, and "unclear priorities" second. That's why leaders need to look in the mirror regularly to make sure their words and actions are in sync, concludes Guthridge.

  • Elizabeth Whipple

    These data are spot on, I can say from experience: if management does not encourage new ventures or keep staff engaged in the org’s growth you’ve got another top-heavy situation with layers of discouraged staff. Not sure there is a remedy for large businesses. Well-run smaller orgs can achieve parity and more open office communications.