Experts in aligning organizational communication with business goals -  consulting worldwide on  internal and external communication.

 Free Advice Angela Sinickas Answers Questions from Communicators

Ask a Question | More Free Advice | Home

 
. .

Face-to-Face / Leadership Communication
- Employee-Supervisor Communication Model
-
Tracking Information Flow
-
Manager Communication Measurement Tools
-
Communication Style of Leaders

Focus Groups
- How Many Participants to Choose
-
Which Participants to Select

.

.

.

.

.

. .

.

.

 

.

 

....
.
.

.

Employee-Supervisor Communication Model

.

Q: The visionary management of our 100-employee non-profit organization has appointed a small team to explore and develop an effective model for employee-supervisor communication. The goal is to replace subjective performance appraisals with this tool.

Earlier this year, we encouraged 6-month personal goal-setting matrices, but were met with no enthusiasm the second time around.

Can you point me in the direction of any successful organizations or literature on this subject?

Michele Clark

.

A: Dear Michele:

This is a fairly specialized topic. I think you might want to start by contacting the American Compensation Association. They can provide you with Web sites, publications and other HR associations focusing on innovative ways to assess performance. Sounds like a very interesting challenge. Let me know what you come up with!

Angela D. Sinickas

Top | Ask a Question | More Free Advice | Home

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

 

 

.
.

.

Tracking Information Flow

.

Q: The tradition to measure communication effectiveness is not very strong at least here in Finland. We measure many details but are not able to see how different parts depend on each other. My idea is that we can think also communication as a process where we have inputs, channels and outputs. We have to measure inputs and compare them with outputs to find out our effectiveness. Inputs could be, of course e.g. money and resources BUT above all

  • How strong is the agreement inside the organization when we talk about the goals of our communication (and that means agreement in different organizational levels) and
  • How our team (division etc.) is really working for that goal: do people have access to the knowledge they need, are there points (=persons) where information changes or stops etc. (Channels are, of course, the media and other ways to communicate and output is the change of action or awareness). Now Iím trying to work out some model to really measure (not only to describe) the information flow inside the organization: how our system works. Of course, I can describe who tells whom and what and that way try to find out the gaps in the information flow. But I think that it is not enough. I need some tools to ìdo it differentlyî. Any ideas?

PS. Iím sorry my English is not very fluent but I hope you can understand my problem (I'm not always quite sure I do :-)

Leena Raukko

 

A: Dear Leena:

The topic you raise about information flow is an excellent one. Here are a couple of suggestions on how to quantify the flow in different ways:

Flow down the 'cascade'

We all know that the information "cascade" down the chain of management doesn't usually work very well. One way to quantify where it is breaking down is to use a survey that quantifies the size of information gaps on different key topics (for more information, see my response to Clark Miller on communication audits elsewhere in this listing). If you are careful in developing your demographic questions, you could track where in the management chain the information flow is slowing to a trickle. For example, you might find the percentage of respondents who say they understand the company strategy well or very well is as follows:

  • 85% for senior management
  • 75% for directors
  • 65% for managers
  • 55% for supervisors
  • 45% for regular employees

This would indicate a gradual, but expected, drop through the cascade as information trickles down. However, here's what I've found for different clients:

  • In one case, only 51% of senior management felt they understood the strategy, while 30% of the employees did. This suggested that the communication group and the company's leadership needed to first communicate effectively with the senior management group on this topic. This was especially true because senior management was the single most preferred source of information on this topic for this company's employees.
  • In another case, information flowed down very well to the directors, but in focus groups directors said they clearly thought it was part of their job to filter the information they shared with their own direct reports. This was done with the best of intentions to prevent overloading their people with information they "didn't need." The people below them said they really did need much of the missing information. The directors' bosses, when asked in executive interviews, were adamant that directors did not have the option of choosing how much to pass on to their employees when senior management expected them to share something.
  • In a third company, the senior leaders had a high level of understanding, but it dropped sharply below them. In interviews, several of them said, without any prompting, that they themselves were part of the communication problem. They rarely passed on anything to anyone on their staffs after their monthly leadership team meetings. They hoped the communication department would find a way to "work around" the executives.
  • In a fourth company, middle managers at headquarters and regional offices had significantly less understanding of company goals than the plant managers. This report has just been finished. Because we haven't done any follow up focus groups, we don't yet know if this is because senior management tends to talk directly with plant managers, or if the corporate managers are so close to the leadership that they keep hearing conflicting versions of company goals, or if the plant managers are mistaken and only think they know something that they really don't!

Flow among departments

Another very important type of flow is information sharing between pairs of departments. Typically, survey questions ask employees to rate how effective communication is between work groups and within their own work groups. Usually the results indicate that there are more problems with communication between groups than within groups. The problem is that this type of question doesn't help us fix the problem.

On some of my surveys, we have identified which specific pairs of departments have the greatest number of people reporting problems. What's interesting is that usually only one of the two departments in a pair will report a problem and the other one will not. Once you identify the biggest problem areas, you decide in which of the problem areas a block in communication could cause a loss of revenue or an increase in expenses. For those pairs, you would then conduct interviews and focus groups to identify specifically what is causing the problem and what it would take to fix it.

I hope these two ideas help. By the way, in the 1970s a group called the International Communication Association developed something they called the ICA Audit, which is now available in the public domain for use by anyone. One of the five tools in the audit measured exactly how formal and informal communication flowed from individual to individual in an organization. However, because it was so specific, it was hard for employees to complete the form correctly and hard for the company to analyze and act on the results. But it inspired me to develop the inter-departmental flow type of questions on my own surveys. And at least one of the researchers who developed that instrument was a Finn, whose name I don't recall.

Let me know if you'd like more information on any of this,

Angela D. Sinickas

Top | Ask a Question | More Free Advice | Home

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

 

 

.
.

.

Manager Communication Measurement Tools

.

Q: Hi...We're in the process of putting the final touches on a two-day communications training program for front-line supervisors through the top level management of our company, a total of about 500 people in all.

Having the luxury of being able to reach so deep into the organization, I want to make sure we leave the participants with easy, simple, accurate ways to measure the effectiveness of their new communication skills. In other words, I want them to have a tangible way of knowing and seeing that their increased efforts in this area are paying off.

While I can do communications audits, surveys, etc., the culture here is such that providing them with tools they can pull out and use at their whim makes a much deeper impression. They like to own things that can make a difference. Any suggestions of how I can provide the attendees of this program with a tangible measurement tool they can regularly use? Thanks for your time...you're doing very interesting work.

Kimberly Derk

 

A: Dear Kimberly,

The general types of things managers could measure would be their own activities, the employees' perceptions of improvement in their managers' communication behaviors and some operational outcomes that could be expected to improve because of the improved communication. This last one will be difficult for me since I don't know the type of work your organization does.

Measuring activities

One thing you could develop for them are self-scoring evaluation forms that track to what extent they are doing the communication activities they were trained in. For example, they could track the frequency of conducting staff meetings or how timely performance review discussions are.

They could also assess HOW these activities are being conducted. For example, they could use checkmarks to indicate if they used the various skills or tips from the training session in conducting staff meetings. For instance, did they develop an agenda? Did employees provide input on the agenda? Did they stay on time? Did they allow enough time for Q & A? Did they handle conflict well? Did they actively listen? At the end of the score sheet, they can total their check marks and see if they're doing better over time.

Measuring employee perceptions

Without doing company-wide surveys, supervisors could distribute a 10-question assessment form to their own employees once a quarter on how well employees think their supervisor is exhibiting various communication skills in which they were trained. As long as employee anonymity is maintained (no write-ins or demographics are on the survey, and all are instructed to circle, checkmark or "X" the forms in the same way), the supervisors could collate the results themselves to see if they're improving over time in their employees' eyes.

Similarly, you could have a meeting evaluation form that is completed at the end of each staff meeting. Perhaps once a year the surveys would also be analyzed company wide to see how well the training is working. This would work best if the first evaluation is done BEFORE the training is conducted to provide a baseline.

Operational outcomes

This would be highly specific to the work done by the individual supervisors' groups. The best approach would be to look at some operational measure that is already being tracked regularly, such as safety for a manufacturing environment, call center accuracy, productivity, turnover, etc. To the extent the supervisor begins communicating differently about topics or situations that relate to the operational measures, they can see if the operational outcomes get better.

For example, it may take a little more time (and lost productivity) to start every shift with a 10-minute briefing on information from the previous shift that could affect the day's production. Then they could track if errors or waste are going down because of the improved communication, which would more than pay for the lost productivity.

Without a better understanding of your environment and the training itself, I'll have to leave it at this level of non-specificity. Feel free to call me at 714 241 8665 if you'd like to kick around more specific issues.

Angela D. Sinickas

Top | Ask a Question | More Free Advice | Home

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

 

 

.
.

.

Communication Style of Leaders

.

Q: I am a student at the University of LaVerne in the Master of Science in Leadership and Management program. I am interested in obtaining your feedback regarding a thesis topic that I am considering. I am interested in studying the communication styles of leaders to identify the most common communication styles used by leaders to establish relationship to foster organizational change. Are you aware of any research conducted in this area? Are you aware of any existing research tools or instruments that may assist me? What recommendations or suggestions would you offer to help me understand how to best focus my research? I appreciate any information that you can provide.

Thank you,

Dana Nagengast

 

A: Dear Dana,

Dr. David Pincus has published both academic and popular books on the topic of executive communication. The popular one is called "Top Dog: A different kind of book about becoming an excellent leader." McGraw-Hill publishes it. If anyone would know what else is available about executive communication, I bet he would. You can reach him at arlenroy@aol.com.

Angela D. Sinickas

Top | Ask a Question | More Free Advice | Home

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

 

 

.
.

.

How Many Participants to Choose

.

Q: We're going to conduct some focus groups. How many people do I need to invite?

.

A: First, no matter how many people you involve in focus groups, your results will not be quantitative. The goal of focus groups is to get qualitative information on different issues. How do people see a problem? Why? What would it take to solve the problem? It's very useful to surface these issues in open-ended focus groups and then construct a survey that will quantify how many people feel that way overall and where there are demographic variations (by location, job type, income level, etc.).

You need to conduct at least one focus group for each type of subgroup that might have a different perspective on the issue at hand. For example, if you're asking employees questions about how communication works within your organization, you should probably have representation from people in office and manufacturing settings, people who work during night shifts, people who work at large or small locations, people at different job levels. Each of these groups experiences communication quite differently. If you don't have a chance to talk with them, you are likely to miss very significant issues that affect large groups of people.

As a practical matter to save time and money, you then want to go to as few locations as possible to gather the greatest diversity of input. On the other hand, in many organizations you need to visit each location to conduct at least one focus group for political reasons, even though you may not hear much new information.

Angela D. Sinickas

Top | Ask a Question | More Free Advice | Home

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

 

 

.
.

.

Which Participants to Select

.

Q: How should I select individuals for a focus group?

 

A: Generally, once you have identified the subgroups you need to tap into, pull a random sample within that group. Hand-picking participants, such as employees considered to be vocal or opinion leaders, is generally not recommended. You tend to hear what you've already heard from these people. What you need is to listen to a cross-section of your audience to hear what you haven't heard before from the people who don't usually come across your path.

You'll also need to decide whether to mix people with different demographic characteristics or to put them in separate sessions. If you're conducting focus groups to pretest reactions to a new office product, you'll probably want to have separate sessions for administrative assistants and for managers. They will use the equipment differently and have different roles in purchasing decisions. Internally, on many communication-related subjects, you should separate managers from non-managers to get more candid information on how staff meetings and other face-to-face communication actually occurs. However, if you're asking questions about carpooling or cafeteria menus, there's no need to separate these groups.

Angela D. Sinickas

Top | Ask a Question | More Free Advice | Home

 

 

2010 Sinickas Communications, Inc., All Rights Reserved. This Website, and all its content, is the exclusive property of Sinickas Communications, Inc., and is protected by US and international copyright laws. You may not reproduce, distribute, transmit, incorporate into any publication, product, Website or computer network, or use the content in any other way whatsoever without the express written permission of Sinickas Communications, Inc.