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COMM 101

Greetings, readers. For those of you following our current series, today, we are exploring the second of three components to building Team Member Engagement in the workplace – Communication. As a 50 year old “Baby Boomer” I’ve been a student for many years of the “art of communication”, and the impact it has at work as well as at home in our daily lives.  As a team member, as a manager, and as a business owner, I have come to appreciate the importance of effective communication. Building relationships, accomplishing tasks, learning new concepts, conveying one’s wants, needs, and desires all require effectively transferring information from one human to another. For this discussion, I’m going to refer to verbal and non-verbal communication as well as feedback loops. Let’s begin…

CMFTPOAM

Greetings. For all you, like, totally old people out there, the abbreviated title above stands for “Communications Musings from the Perspective of a Millennial.” You see, when you live in a world where communication is restricted to 142 characters like I do, brevity supersedes all (including clarity and grammatical correctness). I’m 30—a millennial by definition—and I have a few thoughts on communication as it relates to team member engagement that I’d like to share with you. I think it’s also important to note that I’m not only writing from the perspective of a youngin’ (relatively speaking), but also from the perspective of a team member rather than a leader or manager. I’m just a peon; a cog in the machine, if you will, and, personally speaking, I can’t think of anything that has a greater bearing on my engagement level than communication. For this discussion, I’m going to refer to verbal and non-verbal communicationas well as feedback loops. Here goes …

Verbal Communication

“Don’t you kids ever use those phones to talk to each other?” That’s the question I ask my children as they sit with their opposable thumbs clicking away texting on their mobile devices. To which they correct me by telling me, “they aren’t phones, Dad, they are mobile devices.” Sending text messages to each other as they sit across the room!?!?! You can understand my disgust, because verbal communication, it seems, is on the verge of becoming a lost art. They seem to think it’s easier to email, text, or instant message than it is to talk. I don’t know about that, but when it comes to employee engagement, the convenient option isn’t always the best one. You see, my generation has always felt that direct, open, verbal communication is a critical component to building trusting relationships. It’s a human need, and it doesn’t diminish based upon your age or status within an organization. Our organization believes in verbal communication so strongly that we have an optional all-team update call every week. While the call is optional, we know that the members of our team value it because roughly 90% of the team dials in every week. You may think that Orgwide is staffed by a bunch of old school baby-boomers, but the truth is most of our team falls into the “Mid-20 to 30-something” range. To me, it is strong evidence that there is something to the human desire to hear and to be heard.

Verbal Communication

“You mean people used to actually … talk into these things?” That’s a question I asked my Great Grandpappy Taylor when he showed me a dusty old rotary phone lying amongst his collection of now-useless artifacts from the 20th century. You can understand my shock, of course, because verbal communication, it seems, is on the verge of becoming a lost art. These days, it’s just so much easier to email, text/instant message, or summon one’s carrier pigeon. When it comes to employee engagement, however, the convenient option isn’t always the best one. While I am a sensitive, girly-man type, I don’t think I’m alone in craving a sense of connection with my managers and my co-workers. That connection becomes weaker the longer I go without verbal communication. I’m fortunate enough to work in an organization that has an optional all-team update call every week. Interestingly enough, while the call is optional, I’d venture to say that roughly 90% of the team dials in every week. So, either we’re all touchy-feely, delicate little flowers at Orgwide, or there is something to the human desire to hear and to be heard (rather than to text and to be texted).

Non-verbal Communication

They tell me the Orgwide offices are quite virtual. I don’t know about that, I use very real gas driving in every morning. It is true that we have team members who live in South Carolina, Arkansas, Texas, Oregon, and California. Because so much of what we do here is enabled by technology, sometimes, it’s very easy for me to forget the importance of non-verbal communication, such as gestures and body language, appearance, eye contact, and facial expressions. Suffice it to say, that is not the case when I’m working with clients or others live and in person. I am reminded that to “keep a smile in my voice” is easier when I’m actually smiling. If I want my kids to make eye contact when they speak, I must model that behavior when I speak to them. Even at the ripe old age of (nearly) 50, I am reminded of the adage my father used to use – “It’s not what you say that matters as much as it’s how you say it.” Undoubtedly, I have said the right things in the wrong way a time or two in my life – which in a professional context – an eye roll, a huff, and a moan - is not exactly the best way to inspire your team!

Non-verbal Communication

If I wanted to drive to the Orgwide main office every morning, then I would have a 2,270 mile commute (one way). If I wanted to peek over my cubicle wall to chat with my nearest co-workers, I would have to scream pretty loud for them to hear me … about 960 miles away. All of that is to say that I work on a team which is very geographically dispersed. So, it’s very easy for me to forget the importance of non-verbal communication, such as gestures and body language, appearance, eye contact, and facial expressions. However, in those instances when I’m not isolated out here in Oregon—when I actually do have physical contact with my managers and co-workers live and in person—I am reminded of the powerful messages that I send (and receive) non-verbally. I first learned of this phenomenon when I was 12. My dear old Dad charged me with cutting the grass. Yard work in the sweltering Memphis summer heat was right above “barfing uncontrollably” on my list of super-awesome activities. Still, I said, “yes sir.” But the way I said it, complete with an eye roll, a sigh, and maybe even a foot stomp, sent an entirely different message than what I actually said. It’s not hard to picture a similar scenario in a professional context - An eye roll, a huff, and a moan—is not exactly the best way to inspire your team!

Feedback Loops

There has been much written about the younger generation’s need for feedback. “The most watched” generation, this group has been connected to others and given feedback from infant play dates to soccer, ballet, karate, gymnastics, youth baseball, to...fill in the blank for your specific after school activity here. But I think the need for feedback isn’t generational…but rather human in nature…it is human nature to establish feedback loops! In the workplace, this entails what I refer to as LLA – Listen, Learn, and Act. As managers, we need to LISTEN to our teams. We don’t stop with listening, but then must LEARN from what we hear. From this learning, the feedback only becomes a true “loop” when we ACT and things change. In this way, our teams become involved in the decision making of the organization and are connected to and invested in the organization. We’ll talk about how shared decision making leads to PARTICIPATION later, but suffice it to say; if there isn’t some sort of regular dialogue between employees and managers, I think it’s nearly possible for an employee to feel fully engaged.

Feedback Loops

So much has been said about society (folks my age in particular) and our selfish need for information on-demand—instant gratification as it is often called. References to social media are inexorably linked to this discussion. People these days seem to want everyone to know what they have to say. But why? I think the primary reason we so desperately want to share our thoughts and feelings with the world is because we desperately want the world to respond back … to establish a feedback loops! If it wasn’t feedback we were craving, we’d all have super cute secret diaries that we keep on our bedside table, hidden under my collection of sports magazines and … wait … I didn’t mean my collection of sports magazines. I meant … your … err … the royal we … ummm … I… never mind. My point is that I think our addiction to social media sites is due, in part, to our craving for feedback. It’s just another way to feel connected to the world. And I think that desire for feedback is just as strong in the workplace. If there isn’t some sort of regular dialogue between employees and managers, I think it’s nearly possible for an employee to feel fully engaged.

Conclusion

While we may have arrived at our conclusions in very different ways, it’s clear that communication is something that managers and employees as well as the young and not-quite-as-young both require in order to be fully engaged. So, we both encourage you, leader or team member, young or old, to hone your communication skills! Until next time, remember to take care of your customers, take care of each other, and take care of yourself!

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