8 Ways to Derail Your Employee Communication Efforts

Employee communicationTell me about a problem that’s happening at work, and I’ll tell you the role poor communication plays in it.

30 years of work experience has convinced me that ineffective communication strategies, plans, and skills are at the heart of most organizational effectiveness issues. Do any of these sound familiar?

  1. Employees aren’t meeting your expectations because you never effectively communicated those expectations.
  2. Problems pop up “out of nowhere” that employees knew about but didn’t say anything because they believed nobody would listen to them.
  3. Employees make the wrong decision when dealing with difficult customers situations because you never explained how they should work through value conflicts.
  4. Great employees quit because their managers didn’t take the time to convey how much they valued them.
  5. Gossip is out of control because employees aren’t getting enough information, so they make it up and test their theories among themselves.

The problem isn’t always communication, but it’s a factor more times than not. But you knew that, didn’t you? Then do something about it.

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Before you get started, you might want to take a moment to learn from the mistakes others have made. These eight common communication approaches will wreck your efforts if you don’t avoid them.

1. Communicate without a purpose

It’s easy to say you should improve communication within your company. It’s harder to say why you should do so.

What’s your goal? Maybe you just want to respond to the complaint that “Nobody ever tells me anything around here.” Unfortunately, appeasement is a weak goal.

To find a strong goal, you need to understand why it is important that employees have information.

  • So they know how to do their jobs.
  • So they can solve tougher problems.
  • So they can move more quickly.
  • So they work harder.
  • So they can respond correctly to customers.
  • So they are willing to point out problems.
  • So they want to contribute their ideas.
  • So they feel proud about working for you and want to keep doing so.

Now these are all worthwhile goals. They give you a business reason to communicate. If you and your leadership team don’t understand why you should make an effort, you won’t make it.

2. Fly by the seat of your pants

When it comes to system-wide employee communication, you need a plan. You already know how to make a plan for selling more stuff. You’ve figured out how to streamline a business process. This is no different.

Your plan starts with your goal. Let’s say you have a problem that emploees are spending too much time in meetings that don’t have a point. At the end of the day, there’s a lot of wasted time. You want employees to know they shouldn’t do this. Sounds simple, right? Send out an email blast, tell them to knock it off, and check it off your to-do list.

Sorry, that doesn’t sound like much of a plan. Here’s what I want to know:

  1. What are your specific, measurable objectives?
  2. Who are the target audiences?
  3. What messages do I want each audience to understand?
  4. How am I going to deliver those messages?
  5. How will I know they have been received and understood?

Employee communication requires a communication plan.

3. Pursue a one-size fits all strategy

Where do your employees turn to stay in the loop? That’s the wrong question. Instead, it should be where does Jennifer turn? Or where does Ron turn?

Everyone has his or her own preferred information sources, and your job is to figure out how to match strategies to specific people.

For example, you may have an employee who diligently reads every email and another who always has 300+ unopened emails in her inbox. The one who doesn’t read email knows every piece of gossip in the company grapevine. Some prefer social media. Others want face-to-face meetings.

Preferences vary from person-to-person. Your strategies need to as well.

4. Ignore results

You went through all the the work of thinking about your purpose, objectives, and made a terrific plan. How did you do?

Recently I worked with a company that wanted to improve its internal communication capabilities. I did the research and recommended we put together an employee team to build the plan. The team crafted a great plan and presented it to the executive team. Everyone bought in. Action items were assigned. My work was done.

One day I was visiting the client to work on another project and in a casual conversation asked someone how the communication efforts were coming along. She told me it seemed like people were slowly forgetting about it.

That happens, but it means it’s time for action. I told her, we should reconvene the team to determine what’s working and what’s not working and adjust so that we achieve the results we wanted in the first place.


It’s not like anyone is asking for more things to pay attention to. Emails, meetings, social networks, media. Information is flying at us from every direction.

Just as information source preferences vary from person to person, so does what people find interesting.

If you want to see this in action, note what your friends and connections “like” in your favorite social network. If you watch long enough, you notice patterns develop. Some of my friends can’t avoid those Facebook “personality” quizzes. The ones that tell you what kind of car you should be.

Other’s click on every LinkedIn article that points out the inappropriate ways people are using LinkedIn.

Some go for corny visual humor. While still others are all about inspirational messages.

The better you know your audience, the greater the chance you’ll be able to deliver your message in a way they find interesting.

6. Tell them once and be done with it

Ever wonder why advertisers use so much repetition? Those ads, after all, are expensive.

It’s because the research is clear that repetition is necessary to achieve results. You have to see a message a bunch of times before it will even get your attention. Then you need to see it even more if it’s going to change your attitude.

Ultimately, you want to do more than change attitudes. You want to change behaviors. That takes even more repetition.

I always feel a little weird repeating myself because I’d like to think my every utterance is fresh and new. I’m working to get over my hesitation.

7. Don’t reinforce with action

Too many leaders get all worked up over how they deliver a message. They want the perfect speech, a video that goes viral, flawless email.

I wish they’d spend more time thinking about their supporting action. That’s the most powerful vehicle for delivering a message.

I once had a boss who liked to talk about how important it was for everyone to put in the time. He’d regularly show up for work around 9:30. The rest of us were there at 8:00 or earlier. His talk had no credibility because he didn’t back it up with action.

In another example, a company preached the importance of teamwork, but had a reward system based completely on individual achievement.

Finally I knew a company that wanted employees to start acting more proactively. The problem was they often told heroic stories of individuals who bravely and expertly resolved a crisis. There were no stories about the five people who toiled for three months redesigning a process to significantly reduce emergencies.

The best communication pieces won’t make a bit of difference if the actions don’t support those messages.

8. Hit and run communication

Treat communication as a one-way process, and you’ll have a process that doesn’t work.

Communication is a circular process. Messages are sent. Feedback is received. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Take a complicated, emotionally laden message for example. You know not to put that into an email. You have a conversation with the person so that you can be present for her reactions and can respond to them as necessary.

Your goal should be to make communication as interactive as you possibly can. That makes it more likely your message will be heard and also that it will be accepted.

Commenting systems, polls, and the ability to “like” a message are social media examples of how to create more interaction.

The source of problems also represents the solution

If poor communication leads to organizational problems, then effective communication can make things better.

The biggest mistake leaders make is that they think this is an simple, low-effort activity. It’s not. It requires clear goals, a brilliant plan, and skilled execution.

When you’re ready to strengthen your internal communications capability, contact me. I’d be happy to help.

By Tom LaForce

Tom LaForce helps companies change by creating stronger teams, more effective leaders, and better processes. To discuss a challenge you're facing, use this link to schedule a free discovery call.