With technology integrated into virtually all aspects of business, it has become easy to lose sight of the human element. And yet, this should be considered the cornerstone of any strategy.

In the digital age, the pressure to continually innovate while still delivering shareholder value can be intense. Engagement (and communication for that matter) can often fall by the wayside as management rushes to implement more modern systems and practices.

More than management

While some attention is focused on change management and training employees to use and embrace these digital solutions, conducting an effective engagement strategy requires quite a different approach.

Much of this is focused on keeping employees informed and having them submit their feedback and ideas around potential solutions to implement.

In his book, The Elements of Great Managing, James Harter writes that in good times, employee engagement is the difference between being good and being great. In bad times, it is the difference between surviving and not.

Whether it is the perception that human resources do not form part of the key decision-making process or is a ‘soft’ unit inside the business, the reality is that without people, an organisation does not exist. And it makes no sense for you to employ and not treat them with absolute respect and listen to what they have to say.

Leaders today need to focus on communicating with all of their stakeholders and not just through a waterfall effect of Exco to management to supervisor to blue-collar worker, but rather through a structure that allows leadership to communicate with everyone in the team – no matter their rank or position. This is Communicative Leadership and an absolute requirement to achieve employee engagement!

The key principles of Communicative Leadership are:

  • Communicative leaders coach and enable employees to be self-managing
  • They provide structures that facilitate the work
  • Communicative leaders set clear expectations for quality, employee productivity, and professionalism
  • They are approachable, respectful, and express concern for employees
  • They actively engage in problem solving, follow up on feedback, and advocate for the unit
  • Communicative leaders convey direction and assist others in achieving their goals
  • They actively engage in framing of messages and events
  • Communicative leaders enable and support sense-making.

Change in thinking

Employees who become disengaged are one of the biggest threats faced by organisations.

People falling into a routine rather than trying to deliver value or actively working against the company can create a knock-on effect that can cripple a business.

And if engagement is not happening during times of growth and when the business is performing well, it won’t be a priority when the difficult times hit. This is especially the case when mergers and acquisitions are taking place or when rightsizing initiatives are underway.

“From an employee perspective, not knowing what is going on is worse than being told the truth. If an organisation ignores or downplays the importance of employee communication, it only results in a divided workforce that adds further challenges to the business.”

Delivering value

Employees should be viewed as assets, not balance sheet expenses, and valued as such.

We often forget that in the digital age where people have easy access to news, insights and data, it’s easier to form an opinion based on information that’s available. It might not be official or even true but the vacuum created by a lack of communication from leaders is a great threat to companies. We also know that people tend to be more forgiving when they know what’s going on and in the event of difficulties that might lead to closures or layoffs, they’re also better able to make choices for their future.

While the level of transparency might differ according to the sensitivity of the situation, communication and engagement become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If there is a problem inside the business and employees are aware of it, they tend to think of creative ways of overcoming it and engage with management on some forward-thinking ideas. This creates shared value inside the business.

In fact, by initiating transparent communications where employees are seen as part of the team or ‘tribe’ will drive clarity, commitment and engagement and over time lead to team cohesion and confidence.

So, in addition to embracing digital transformation initiatives, organisations need to remain mindful of the ‘people effect’, how they communicate and the tactics they use to drive employee engagement. Without these components, all the latest technology in the world will not be able to differentiate the organisation from its competitors and drive bottom-line growth.

This article was published by Business Brief and UChief Magazine.