Engage Your Staff

By: Jim Bruce

In a 2015 Interact/Harris Poll of some 1000 U.S. workers, 91% of the respondents said communication issues prevent leaders from being as effective as they might be. The most frequent issues noted in the survey were: 

  • Not recognizing employee achievements 
  • Not giving clear directions
  • Not having time to meet with employees
  • Refusing to talk with subordinates
  • Taking credit for others’ ideas
  • Not offering constructive criticism
  • Not knowing employees’ names
  • Refusing to talk with people on the phone or in person
  • Not asking about employees’ lives outside work. 

Lou Solomon, CEO of Interact and adjunct professor at the McColl School of Business at Queens University of Charlotte, North Carolina, points out that this data illustrates how the majority of leaders are not engaging staff in those critical moments when engagement would improve their staff member’s work and help them see their leaders as trustworthy. She further notes that to be effective, leaders must invest time and energy in connecting with those who are on their team. While Solomon’s work was done a few years ago, there is nothing to suggest that the behavior of leaders has substantially changed.
Based on the survey’s findings, Solomon makes six specific suggestions to improve communications:

  1. Be specific in acknowledging good work. The stand-alone “Great job!” comment no longer cuts it. Staff expect leaders to be specific about what they did and why you, their leader, thought it was great. For example, “I really appreciate the details you brought to the meeting with our stakeholder. It gave you the basis for addressing the challenges that we are having there. Your non-confrontational, factual presentation really made the difference. Thank you!” And don’t forget to make the more significant staff accomplishments public at all-staff meetings and in newsletters.  
  2. Look for and make use of every opportunity to communicate. Chance encounters in the elevator or hallway or in the break room or as you are waiting for a meeting to begin are excellent opportunities to say a personal thank you, to ask about an individual’s current work, or to have other short conversations. 
  3. Ask staff for their opinions. If you are known for always having the correct answer, don't expect your staff to put forward suggestions. This is particularly true if you also have the tendency to talk about ideas others have put forward without attribution. Actively ask for input on how the team can improve its work, how it might do its work more effectively, etc. Make the environment safe so that all ideas are welcome.
  4. Keep staff informed about organizational changes that will affect them.  There are always changes. Make sure that your staff are not surprised.
  5. Don’t delay giving feedback.  Continual meaningful feedback is important and good. Create the opportunities you need and make the time available.
  6. “A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, and most important sound in any language.”2(Dale Carnegie) Get to know your staff’s names and use those names when you talk with that individual.

Connection, according to Lou Solomon, is a mindset and an energy exchange between people who are paying attention to each other. Connections motivate and influence us.  
Take some time to think about how you connect with staff and colleagues. Do you make the most of the opportunities that you have? Do you create opportunities to learn from your staff? Do you see them as distinct individuals who make real contributions? Go back and think through the list of communication short-comings at the beginning of today’s essay. Select one or two you believe you need to work on. And, make that work a priority today.
Make this week a great one for you and your team. .  .     jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates. He previously was Professor of Electrical Engineering, and Vice President for Information Systems and CIO at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.

  1. Lou Solomon, The Top Complaints from Employees About Their Leaders, Harvard Business Review, June 24, 2015.
  2. Dale Carnegie quotation, Dale Carnegie & Associates, Inc. website.

Additional Reading:

  1. Lou Solomon, Two-Thirds of Managers Are Uncomfortable Communicating with Employees, Harvard Business Review, March 2016,

An earlier version of this essay appeared as the Tuesday Reading on August 9, 2015.

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