Three years ago I was almost killed on a trail ride when my horse reared up and came all the way over on top of me. Although it was a harrowing experience, I was too deep in the woods to walk out. So, I had to collect myself, overcome my fears and get back on my horse so I could ride back to the truck and trailer.

That’s when the post mortem began – What went wrong? Why did my horse react the way he did? Was he dangerous? Was he mean? Was he stupid? Should I get rid of him? I began dissecting the day’s events leading up to the accident to see if I could figure out what happened; and that’s when I realized that I – not the horse – was the problem. I had failed to communicate properly with my horse and he reacted in the only way he knew how to tell me he was hurting and afraid.

While workplace communications aren’t usually that drastic, ineffective communications can “kill” the morale and performance of any organization. Because horses can’t talk, they communicate using gestures and body language – much like employees. As a matter of fact, 55% of all human communication is non-verbal and another 38% is not WHAT you say but HOW you say it. That means a whopping 93% of all communication has nothing to do with the actual words you use!

Are you communicating effectively with your team? Are you communicating with credibility?

To be an effective, credible leader you must communicate effectively. To help you master effective communications, consider the following:

Communicate the organization’s priorities – Employees can’t be expected to align their priorities with those of the organization if they don’t know what they are. This is one reason why so many organizations act in separate functional silos rather than as an integrated business team. Could your employees articulate the 3 key results your organization needs to achieve this year? Can you and your leadership team?

Clearly tie employee results to the organization’s priorities – Employees who don’t know what’s expected of them seldom perform to their potential – and if your employees aren’t performing to their potential your organization can’t perform it its potential. According to the 2009/2010 Communication ROI Study Report by Watson Wyatt. “Companies that are highly effective communicators had 47% higher total returns to shareholders over the last five years compared with firms that are the least effective communicators.”

Create and reinforce a communication culture – Effective communication begins at the top. Be transparent and straightforward about the challenges of your business and even about your company’s financials. With that in mind, can you answer the following questions?

  • Does your communications plan engage the entire workforce?
  • Does it encourage frank, two-way communication throughout the organization?
  • Do you communicate key decisions and how they were made?
  • Do you foster an organizational culture that is characterized by open communication and positive accountability?

Implement a comprehensive communication strategy – An effective communication strategy should include the following:

  1. Your communication objective – “After our communications plan is implemented employees at all levels of the organization will have access to the information they need and want to actively support and participate in the day to day and strategic decisions of ABC Company.
  2. Key themes and messages that are to be repeated and reinforced – keep them brief. According to research cited by the Society for Human Resource Management, people normally remember only three to five points from any communication. So keep it short and sharp.
  3. Guiding principles based on your organizations values and philosophies
  4. Target audiences
  5. Communication venues and tactics – department meetings, one-on-one meetings, all employee meetings, bulletin board posting, etc.

Like horses, employees can only perform at their best when the communication is clear, concise and credible. Unlike horses, employees can talk to you directly – if you’re listening.

Does your organizational culture support open, honest communication? Do all your systems, policies and processes support the culture you intend? Are you leading with credibility? If you’re not sure or if your culture is not where you need it to be to drive business results, we’ve got solutions.

*Horse-ism – Using good ‘ole horse sense to become an extraordinary leader!