U.S. bosses improving their communication skills

Sep 10 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Only days after a survey of British workers revealed widespread cynicism about the ability of bosses to communicate effectively and truthfully, there is better news for business leaders on the other side of the Atlantic.

A survey of more than 18,000 employees of U.S. companies by professional services firm Towers Perrin suggests that business leaders are doing a better job in communicating with employees than they were 12 months ago.

The survey encompassed employees at multinational organisations across a range of industries, including financial services, manufacturing, technology, energy and health care.

Nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of respondents to the 2005 Communication Effectiveness Survey say senior leadership effectively communicates the company's progress in meeting business objectives, up nine points from 2004.

The same proportion say that leadership has communicated a clear vision for the company's long-term success, an eight-point increase from 2004.

The study also shows an increase in the credibility of communication, with seven out of 10 trusting information from company sources more than from the news media and a similar proportion saying that its accuracy has improved.

In contrast, fewer than four out of 10 of the Britons surveyed by Mercer Human Resource Consulting were willing to trust their bosses to always communicate honestly.

"The data from this year's study show a real improvement in the perceived effectiveness of senior leadership communication," said Katherine Woodall, one of the authors of the study.

"This is especially significant given that employees in the study also identify senior leadership communication as one of the most important elements of communication effectiveness overall."

To further this communication, the survey highlighted that executives are increasingly using new technology such as video or Webcast to get their messages across and relying less on distributing printed materials.

Meanwhile, although the proportion of employees who believe senior leadership demonstrates a sincere interest in their satisfaction and well-being has risen by eight per cent on 2004, it still only reaches 50 per cent.

But that is still way higher than the figure for the UK, where according to another recent survey, only a quarter of employees said they were willing to place a lot of trust in senior management to look after their interests, with more than four out of 10 saying they had little or no trust in them to do so.

These figures are particularly important, Katherine Woodall said, because research on employee engagement consistently shows a strong link between higher levels of employee engagement and the belief that senior management is concerned about employees' well-being.

"It is, in fact, the number one driver of engagement," she said.

In other words, better communication results in improved employee performance.

Nevertheless, it is also clear that employers still need to improve their communication around the marketplace, competitive environment and customers and, in particular, find ways to give staff access to better quality information.

More than a quarter of respondents maintain that information on competitors' products and services is not widely available within their organisations. Almost four out of 10 say there is too little information on competitors and six out of 10 feel it is not at all effective.

Communication about customers receives low scores as well, with nearly half per cent saying there is too little information and a further quarter saying what they do receive is ineffective.

"Employees get the message that they are fundamental to driving company performance," said Woodall.

"But these data tell us that one of the most important tools for them - getting detailed information about competitors and feedback from customers on what it takes to win - is still lacking."