What's the most important skill a great leader must possess? Above all, I believe the ability to communicate is critical to the long-term success of any business. Specifically, leaders who communicate effectively with their employees benefit from higher levels of employee engagement and morale. The more engaged employees are, the more motivated they become, providing more value to the organization all around.
As a leader, are you communicating effectively? Most leaders don't get to be in leadership positions without good communications skills, so your first instinct may be to answer in the affirmative. But the focus of effective communications is less about your style of communication, and more about what information you choose to communicate.
Here are recommendations for the type of communications that leaders should be sharing with their employees:
1) Share your vision. Every leader has a vision for their company. You know your organizational goals cannot be achieved without the help and dedication of your employees. To get them on board and help to make it happen, you need to share your vision. Tell your employees what kind of company you are, what kind of company you want to be, and lay out your plan to get there. And tell them often. Ensure that every employee knows their role and how they contribute to that vision, and how much their efforts are appreciated.
2) Hold monthly meetings. Similar to a "State of the Union" address, hold a monthly "State of your dealership" address to keep employees informed. In particular, if there is a challenge your dealership is facing, it's critical that employees hear it from the leadership first. If you don't share this information, guess what? Your employees will start making things up, and rumors and gossip are a death knell to employee morale. Also encourage managers to have a weekly meeting with employees to do this on a micro-scale.
3) Share numbers and goals. You don't have to share your profit numbers, but do share some of the revenue goals in each department and then share how close each department came to achieving their goals. It's also a great idea to set and share additional goals such as increasing sales closing ratios, or hitting a 95 percent vehicle inspection rate. Let employees set individual goals as well. If your employees understand the goals and are encouraged to talk about them in a public forum, they may feel more motivated to help their department reach those goals.
4) Celebrate successes. When goals are met, it's important to celebrate on a dealership-wide basis. Communicate and let everyone know when a person or department hits a goal. But don't make it all about the numbers. As an organization with core values, it's important to celebrate cultural successes as well. Do you have some employees that volunteered in a community event or an employee who handled a customer exceedingly well? Celebrate them.
At Auto/Mate, we have a booth-decorating contest around the holidays, and it's amazing how elaborate some of the booths get and how competitive the employees are with each other. The winner deserves to be celebrated because of the sheer amount of work and time that's put in. We also have "Matey awards" for recognizing exceptional employees, with categories like "The Energizer Bunny award for never slowing down," and "The ShamWow! award for an amazing ability to clean up messes." Company-wide contests that aren't revenue related are fun and boost employee spirits. What non-revenue related things are your employees doing that can be celebrated?
5) Acknowledge employees who do a great job. Do you know which employees are the hard workers and which ones are just coasting? It's really important to publicly acknowledge the ones who put in extra effort and have a great attitude. Many dealers still believe in spiffing employees when they reach a goal or go the extra mile. That's okay, but it's been proven that the "if you do this, then you get that," approach isn't motivating for most people. And what if an employee is in a position where spiffs don't apply to them?
When an employee is doing their job well, or does something that results in positive feedback from a customer, a leader should reward them with praise--and make it public. Let's say Jim the service advisor authorized a little extra something gratis for a customer who had a large repair bill, and the customer was so appreciative they called the General Manager to thank them. The GM or dealer should immediately drop everything, walk to the service department, put their arm around Jim's shoulders and say loudly, in front of everyone, "Jim, Mrs. Smith just called to let me know how you took care of her. I just wanted to say thank you for doing such a great job and taking care of our customers." Remember it has to be sincere and come from the heart. I guarantee Jim will be on Cloud Nine all day.
Communication is a Two-Way Street
So far we've talked about information that leaders choose to share with employees. But what about the information your employees want to share with you? Employee input and feedback is invaluable when it comes to identifying problems and developing solutions.
Your monthly meetings offer a good forum for getting employee feedback on many situations. But if there's a real problem, often employees are unwilling to share their opinions publicly. In this case, you may want to consider a good old-fashioned, anonymous suggestion box.
At Auto/Mate, every year we are nominated by our employees for the "Top Workplaces" competition that's sponsored by our local Business Journal. As part of the process, Workplace Dynamics gives our employees a detailed survey. These anonymous survey results have helped me identify areas with room for improvement. An anonymous employee survey conducted by an outside party is an invaluable tool I would recommend to every organizational leader.
Once you have your employee feedback it's critical to take their concerns seriously. Share results publicly and address all of the issues. If a suggestion isn't realistic, explain your reasoning. If you are open and honest about your decision-making process, employees are more likely to respect your decisions, regardless of what they are.
Effective communication promotes a culture of sharing ideas and solving problems. Employees who are "in the know" and feel like their opinions are valued are more likely to be engaged and motivated to do their jobs well.