7 Things You Should Communicate

crl_mastheadIt’s not enough to say that if you want to keep the best people when the economy improves, you just need to communicate more. It matters what you say and how and when you say it. Communication occurs in the context that you’ve created over time, and how your communications will be received will depend a great deal on that context. If you want to keep your best people, then you need to do your homework. (Or, conversely, if you want to recruit someone else’s key people, find companies that did not do the homework suggested in this article.)

Fortunately, it isn’t terribly difficult to communicate better. It does, however, require recognizing that emotion, not logic, is the driving force, and it requires starting now — not next week, next month, or next year. If you wait until people are leaving, it’s too late.

So how do you highlight someone’s contributions? I offer more, detailed suggestions in the Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership, but for now, I suggest the following in brief.

Take the opportunity to praise them in public. Note that this does not mean comparing them to others on the team; that only creates resentment and embarrassment for all concerned. Talk about the importance of the effort they’ve put in, and find small ways of demonstrating your appreciation. It doesn’t have to be fancy, especially in a time of tight budgets. Honest appreciation goes a long way.

The next step in keeping people is to make sure that their contributions are not just recognized, but are also important. Visible contributions that are not valued by the company are not going to be very compelling. Likewise, contributions that someone does not perceive as important will not serve to keep them at the company.

A cousin of mine worked for NASA in the early 1970s. He was part of the team designing the space shuttle. Due to security issues, he and his team had no idea what part of the shuttle they were working on; it was the quintessential “clean room” project, where they would be given instructions and specifications, but no context. When the day of the grand unveiling arrived, he found out that he had been designing the door lock. He walked out of the unveiling and out of NASA.

If you want to keep someone, make sure you frequently highlight how their work fits into the long-term vision of the company. Help them see that their work matters to the team and the company. Build a sense of partnership and status. They’re not a hired mercenary; they’re a trained professional providing valuable services. Again, demonstrate appreciation whenever possible. Find ways to reward people for their efforts, but don’t make the rewards the point of the work.

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Make people feel competent and appreciated. No one likes being reminded of embarrassing incidents, of failures, of things that didn’t work out well. On the flip side, practically everyone loves to be reminded of successes. As the old saying goes: nothing succeeds like success. As the lesser-known corollary goes, nothing keeps people at your company from leaving like the feeling that they’re in an environment where they’ll be successful.

Although the corollary lacks the pithy ring of the original saying, it is nonetheless valid. Create an environment where people can see their own competence and measure their own success toward creating something larger than themselves, and you’ve gone a long way toward keeping them at your company. And, of course, providing opportunities for growth also helps build that feeling of competence and further increases the attractiveness of staying. An additional side effect is that the more competent people feel, the more secure they feel. The more secure they feel, the harder it is for someone else to pry them away.

So yes, in the end it really is all about communications, provided that you are communicating the right things. Think about how you are communicating the following things:

  • Your recognition of the contributions of your employees
  • Your appreciation for their contributions and the personal sacrifices they are making
  • Your own enthusiasm, excitement, and positive vision of the company and its future
  • The goals of the company and how each employee fits into bringing those goals to life
  • The common ground and ideals that will unify your team
  • The information your employees need to work and grow most effectively
  • The feedback that will make your employees feel successful

If you can address those seven points, odds are you’ll keep your top people as the economy improves.

Stephen Balzac is an expert on leadership and organizational development. A consultant, author, and professional speaker, he is president of 7 Steps Ahead, an organizational development firm focused on helping businesses get unstuck. He is the author of “The 36-Hour Course in Organizational Development,” published by McGraw-Hill, and a contributing author to volume one of “Ethics and Game Design: Teaching Values Through Play.” Steve's latest book, "Organizational Psychology for Managers," will be published by Springer in late 2013. For more information, or to sign up for Steve’s monthly newsletter, visit 7stepsahead.com. You can also contact him at 978-298-5189 or steve@7stepsahead.com.


4 Comments on “7 Things You Should Communicate

  1. Excellent article Stephen. I hope readers share with their management team. It’s a great reminder of simple, straightforward things employers can do to help their people rise to the challenge during difficult times.


    Expanding on “Make people feel competent and appreciated.”…Here’s a recommendation that will help your people access what Southwest Airlines calls the Warrior Spirit:

    Continually share stories of employees demonstrating “go the extra mile” behavior, stellar customer service, innovative thinking, courage, and other examples of inspiring behavior.

    By doing this, you remind your people of what they are capable of, what heroic potential they have access to.

    By making this a regular practice, you unleash the phenomenon called Priming, which is one of the most powerful psychological/neurological phenomena available to a leader.

    If you want to read more about priming and how to use it:

    1) An excellent blog post explaining priming as part of a review about the book Blink:

    blog post

    2) a blog post I wrote titled:

    Prime Your People For Greatness

    I believe that this is one of the most important and useful things you can do to keep morale high and a “Can Do” attitude present in your workforce during difficult times.

    Happy New Year!

  2. Hi David,

    Thanks for your feedback. I go into more depth on many of the topics in the print version of the article.

    I agree about the important of priming. Creating an atmosphere of positive thought and success is certainly a powerful tool. That said, like a number of psychological concepts I find that priming is frequently overused and misunderstood, a point I try to get across to students in my psych classes. Priming is very powerful in isolation, but is much harder to accomplish in an environment in which multiple conflicting stimuli are competing with one another.

    As far as Gladwell, I can’t say I’m terribly impressed by him. Blink boils down to a discussion and application of heuristics, which I was studying almost 30 years at MIT and which are a basic part of modern cognitive psychology. Gladwell is a much better storyteller than, say, Gordon Allport (whose work on these topics long predates Gladwell), but less knowledgeable.

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