At Work: Human resources - Leading people - Get your message across face to face

Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive of the Directory of Social Change and Trustee of MedicAlert

The way you communicate with employees is as important as the information you give them.

A perennial moan from staff is that they're not being communicated with effectively - and they are often right. What's more, email and the intranet have made the situation considerably worse.

I can't count the number of times managers get defensive about this issue.

Anna (I mentioned her last month) gets particularly cross. "The information is available," she asserts confidently. "Why don't staff read their emails, look on the web or the intranet, open the shared folder or watch the noticeboard?" To which my response is usually "Aargh!"

If you want to guarantee that your communication fails, you have several options. For example, you could tell people that the information is in a folder on the shared server so that they have to go and look for it.

You could also give out important information via email, copied to a large number of people. Making sure the information is boring and there is no opportunity to ask questions or give feedback will have the same effect.

Staff are often more interested than you realise. If you don't tell them how your organisation is doing, they'll work it out for themselves - and probably get it wrong. If you give them key information in emails or other written forms, they might ignore it.

Anna's other problem is that she has a tendency to hang on to information unnecessarily, which causes distrust. Experience tells me there is almost nothing that cannot be openly shared with staff. The only exceptions are personal issues and the occasional piece of deeply sensitive information - a merger plan, for example.

Tell them how the organisation is doing financially, what the plans are and how you're doing against them, what the problems are, what the external world thinks about the organisation and your dreams and plans.

To make your communication more effective, managers need to know what information is to be passed on and what is not. Staff need to know what information they can expect to receive, when and how, and that it is a regular occurrence. They also need to be given information in a way that is relevant to them.

Doing it face to face is the most effective way to share information, because staff can ask questions.

Put a monthly meeting in the diary - the same time each month, diarised a year ahead. Use it as the opportunity to share key messages and ask staff for their views. And never, ever cancel it.

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