Having coffee alone at home in the morning or at work when you are focusing on a project is fine, but when did you last have coffee with your boss? I have asked this question many times when in front of delegates at our numerous training interventions. I ask them how often they spend time actually communicating with their line managers – how frequently they talk over issues that pertain to direction, expectations and mission. I try to find out if there is any interaction and dialogue around business imperatives and strategic goals. Most delegates laugh at me when I ask this question – they seem to have very little real communication moments with their superiors, if any. Any communication that is offered is in the form of orders or directives and subsequent clarification from the employees. Very little interaction takes place around brain-storming, ideas generation and areas of focus. In some cultures, it is seemingly almost inconceivable to expect the possibility of communication with a senior, where one is not allowed to bridge business managerial “levels” or status lines. This scenario is sad and inhibits problem-solving and staff growth. It also results in employee disengagement.

In a study some years ago, the “surveyors” asked doctors and medical specialists to rate the quality of communication between themselves and their staff (nurses, receptionists and other hospital and clinical assistants) on a 1 – 5 scale, where “1” equalled bad communication and “5” represented communication that was world-class. The rating that they gave themselves averaged at 4.2 points. They then asked nurses, receptionists and nursing assistants to rate the quality of communication received from the doctors and specialists – only an average of 1.7 points was achieved! Clearly, a communication “gap” seems to exist, perhaps largely undetected by those in authority and occupying senior positions. There seems to be a lack of awareness of all the issues that staff face on a daily basis and very little help is offered to resolve some of these issues.

This “communication gap” problem could potentially be resolved with application of some of the following pointers:

  1. Sit down with staff individually – make time to personally come alongside employees, offering a coffee or health treat and interacting with them around personal issues. Find out what they are happy with, what they are irritated by and what they feel could improve the context in which they work.
  2. Remove obstacles that stand in the way of potential productivity enhancement – managers have the power to change things, specifically to remove arduous repetitive information gathering and unnecessary reporting.
  3. Supply necessary resources to get the work done well – many employees are seemingly held back through inadequate or archaic resources that slow down productivity or make it impossible for them to deliver on expectations. Supply high quality tools and the necessary training to complement the tool usage.
  4. Emotionally connect with your staff – both business and peoples’ lives have emotional content. Do not shy away from this, but always try to find resolution to emotion. People need to be comforted, understood, encouraged, motivated and even cheered at times. Emotional intelligence will enhance your leadership.
  5. Celebrate accomplishments, events and anniversaries – praise where recognition is due, recognise personal/team achievement and celebrate personal events.
  6. Reward appropriately – when targets are met and surpassed, offer appropriate rewards according to the prevailing company/policy context. Do not allow these moments of high achievement to pass by unnoticed.

Facilitating opportunity for “coffee” or whatever is appropriate with your staff assists with discussing the company’s “big picture” goals, direction and future vision. It also helps with establishing high quality relationships – relationships of trust, appreciation and affirmation. It grows teamwork and helps you get to the place of success.

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