Leaders can improve employee motivation with these communication tips

I have a friend who got a Macbook Air for Christmas. It was given to her by the company for which she works and it gave every employee his or her choice of the latest Apple products (up to a certain amount). It wasn’t the first time this particular employer had done something like this. The Christmas season is traditionally marked by amazing generosity, but is annually opening the gadget closet the best way to motive employees?

Leadership and employee communications

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For a few employees the answer is, “Yes!” However, countless employee satisfaction surveys done over the past 10 years reveal material “blessings” occasionally showered from on high are no substitute for a consistently healthy work environment where people feel valued when it comes to motivating employees. President and CEO of Managed Medicaid Services Group, Richard Yardon, recently posted a short but accurate commentary about The Number One Way to Fail at Motivating Employees. The conclusion: incentives and employee values must be connected.

Fortunately, the company for which my friend works doles out its gadgets as a response to the hard work accomplished by fanatically dedicated employees. I’ve not met anyone from the organization who doesn’t wear that they work there as a sense of pride. What’s a key ingredient to that kind of employee commitment?

Communication from the top down. It’s that simple.

A few years ago I conducted research at a large company (2,000 employees) to find out if an internal blog authored by the CEO would have any bearing on employee performance. The outcome was shocking and revealed a resounding yes. The study showed employees who are consistently communicated to by their top leadership have a deeper sense of organizational connectedness which motivates employees to take more pride in their work and perform at a higher level.

The ability for leaders to encourage, empower, promote organizational values and drive vision is directly proportionate to the value they place on employee communications. Regardless of organizational size, here are four ways leaders can improve their communication to positively influence employee motivation.

1. Start communicating

Unbelievably, top leaders at most organizations leave internal communications exclusively to the HR department or corporate communications. The president/CEO may offer a column in the monthly employee newsletter (probably written by someone in corporate communications), but that doesn’t communicate employee value – and feeling valued is tops on what employees want from their organizations; that what they do matters. If C-suite leaders want to see improved employee motivation, then it begins when they begin to communicate.

2. Go where the people are

How successful would a political candidate – say an incumbent president – be if he or she conducted a re-election campaign exclusively from the White House? That would be absurd! Then why do so many organizational leaders never leave the confines of an insular C-suite yet expect employees to blindly support a corporate vision? People mostly support a political candidate because they “like” him or her. Policy positions are generally secondary issues. Candidates get out among people and at least give constituents a sense that they know them. To become liked. Organizational leaders must do the same thing. This is, however, more than the “Management By Walking Around” idea expressed in Tom Peters 1982 book, “In Search of Excellence.” This includes both informal and formal internal communications opportunities to connect with employees for the purpose of creating value .

3. Go (virtually) where the people are

The research question to my study was: “Do employees of [the organization] perceive an internal Weblog authored by its chief executive officer will help them identify more with the organization?” Eighty percent indicated they would be interested in reading a mix of the president’s perspectives on current events, vision and direction for the company and 61 percent said they would feel more informed about the direction of the company. The point is, today’s social media tools offer top leaders a chance to go where the people are without being physically present. The technology enable an open channel to cast vision, set expectations, provide leadership, interact with employees and make leaders more personable. It’s possible to mentor the entire company on a daily basis while building trust and value in the process.

4. Over communicate

Nearly every employee communication survey ever taken reveals employees never feel communicated to enough by their leadership. In reality, that’s a subjective measure. However, the statistic is ubiquitous enough to credibly assume there is a legitimate lack of communication between leaders and employees, that it is an impediment to employee connectedness and therefore motivation and performance. Over communicate doesn’t mean making every employee privy to every issue, but it certainly means increasing the flow of information shared. This includes challenges as well as victories. Employees will rally in challenging times if the communication groundwork has been previously laid.

The most inexpensive strategy any leader can employ to motivate employees is an internal communication strategy where they connect directly with the people who actually carry out his or her vision on a daily basis. The value proposition for employees is being/feeling valued, and that is itself an incentive.


I write...a lot, and use social and traditional media strategies to help people and organizations communicate better.

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