Office Communication Toolkit: 10 tips for managers on active listening skills, motivating employees, workplace productivity, employee retention strategies and change management techniques

Office Communication Toolkit: Tip #1

Active listening in 4 steps: The best managers make the best listeners

Managers spend a good part of their workday listening to other people. But bear in mind, there’s a big difference between “passive” and “active” listening.

Effective listening includes a four-step process to ensure understanding:

1. Listen to the total message.

2. Prove your understanding by using nonverbal signals.

3. Use open-ended probes.

4. Paraphrase what you hear.

Learn more about the four steps of active listening, as well as five bad habits that impede effective listening, in Office Communication Toolkit.

Office Communication Toolkit: Tip #2

Motivating employees through realistic deadlines: 4 do’s and don’ts

Without deadlines, employees flounder. They can’t be aware of the urgency or priorities of a project unless their supervisors tell them.

Following are four tips on motivating employees by setting realistic deadlines:

1. Do be specific

Name the target day and time. And mean what you say. If you ask for completion “next week,” don’t complain on Friday that you really needed it on Wednesday.

2. Do clarify priorities

Let people know if this assignment takes precedence over any other projects they’re working on now. Avoid the old, favorite deadline “ASAP,” which usually translates in an employee’s mind as “whenever it gets done.”

3. Don’t set false deadlines

Setting a deadline earlier than necessary (because you don’t trust your employees to meet the real deadline) creates more problems than it solves.

Your staff will soon learn that’s how you operate and will assume there’s always air in the schedule. As a result, they’ll always miss that first deadline, just as you knew they would.

4. Do establish an update schedule

The best-laid plans can go astray, and so can deadlines. You’ll minimize the chance of this occurring by setting up a progress report schedule when you assign the project. This is especially important for long-term projects.

Office Communication Toolkit: Tip #3

Motivating employees to do their best each day: 6 office communication techniques

Here are six tips for motivating employees to stay on task and work together toward the common goal, according to a report by OnPoint Consulting:

1. Clarify, clarify, clarify.

2. Establish clear expectations.

3. Don’t micromanage your entrepreneurial-minded employees. But do monitor them.

4. Encourage employees to share bad news with you.

5. Solve problems quickly, but not too quickly.

6. Encourage informal and spontaneous interaction

Office Communication Toolkit: Tip #4

Managing employee retention: Listen for subtle whispers of employee turnover

Most good employees don’t stand up one day and quit out of the blue. They send off subtle hints that, if you’re listening, you can act on before the good employee walks out the door. That’s why it’s important to listen to statements like these that can act as an “advance warning system” for employee turnover:

  • “This job isn’t what I thought it would be.” Rather than exploring what the employee was originally told or trying to defend miscommunication, focus on the present. Ask, “How do you want your job to be?”
  • “I’m at a plateau. I can’t grow here.” Consider that a plea for job stimulation. Provide the employee with new responsibilities, cross-training opportunities or exposure to influential mentors.
  • “I don’t get any feedback.” Most employees crave regular input from their supervisors. Don’t leave them in the dark. Plan regular sessions to discuss ongoing projects and performance.
  • “This place has too much politics.” While you may not be able to eliminate all dissension and politics in the organization, you can level with the employee. If someone makes this complaint, address rumors head-on, and don’t play favorites.

Office Communication Toolkit: Tip #5

Maintaining workplace productivity: 7 common employee gripes (and how to silence them)

A recent study says that 40% of managers in the United States are considered “bad bosses” by their employees. Yet most managers assume that their relationships with their employees are running smoothly.

Obviously, some of those bosses are wrong … and that can create major problems for workplace productivity. A Gallup Poll says organizations are 50% less productive—and 44% less profitable—when serious boss-employee conflicts exist.

Editor’s Note: What makes a good boss? Qualities that U.S. workers consider necessary for being a good boss (in order of importance), according to a Yahoo! survey:

  1. Communication/listening skills
  2. Effective leadership skills
  3. Trust in their employees to do their jobs well
  4. Flexibility and understanding
  5. Intelligence
  6. Teamwork skills
  7. Even temperament

Access practical scripts on how to respond to seven common employee complaints in Office Communication Toolkit.

Office Communication Toolkit: Tip #6

Employee retention strategies: 8 little things managers can do to retain the best

When good employees leave for greener pastures, it makes a manager’s job much more difficult. Managers can prevent this syndrome by doing what they can to make their own pasture the greenest. While compensation helps, it’s not always cash that makes pastures greener. When salaries are equal with the marketplace, other factors take priority.

Here are eight easy-to-plant “seeds” that help keep employees growing and content, according to a KEYGroup report:

1. Keep them engaged. Consider ways to provide opportunities for employees to improve on their skills or learn new skills they can use in their jobs.

2. Give praise where praise is due. Recognizing a job well done isn’t an expensive proposition, but it will mean the world to your employee.

3. Be aware of employees’ changing needs. By recognizing their changing needs, you show sensitivity to what’s going on in their lives. This builds loyalty and helps bring stability to their personal lives, which means they can focus better at work.

4. Realize that great employees thrive under great leaders. Employees won’t leave for greener pastures unless you drive them. The buck starts and stops with their leaders.

5. Conduct regular “stay” interviews. Rather than exit interviews, use regular “stay” interviews to provide an opportunity to compliment high performers on their work and inspire them to do more.

6. Create an environment where people can do their best work. By allowing employees to develop and implement their own ideas, you’ll keep them passionate about their work.

7. Create an environment of trust. Employees are happier and work harder when they trust their leaders. They decide which leaders they can trust based on how their fellow employees, company vendors and customers are treated.

8. Rid your pasture of weeds. The weeds are those poor performers and negative employees who stifle the good attitudes and high performance of their co-workers.

The bottom line: Striving to keep employees happy and engaged is not just a “nice” thing to do — it’s the only way to maximize workplace productivity.

Thoughtful employee retention strategies are useful not just for retaining people to avoid the high cost of recruitment. Engaged employees are creative, productive, motivated and brimming with good ideas.

Office Communication Toolkit: Tip #7

Confronting poor performers: 6 scripts for managers

No manager enjoys having “the talk” with employees. But ignoring an employee’s poor performance won’t make the problem go away; it will only make things worse.

If you’re apt to take the head-in-the-sand approach to employees’ job failings, you’re not alone: Only 31% of U.S. workers agree with the statement “My manager confronts poor performance,” according to a KEYGroup survey.

And companies that tolerate poor performance will drive away top performers who are unhappy working in such an environment.

The solution: Approach workers about their performance problems in a fair, problem-solving manner. When you confront such people in a tactful way, you’ll find that one of two things happens: They improve or they move.

Find the six rules of engagement for confronting poor performers in Office Communication Toolkit.

Office Communication Toolkit: Tip #8

Helping employees accept change in the workplace: It’s all about the 4 C’s

To start, you must first understand why people are so quick to resist change. By knowing this, you can make intelligent decisions about how to introduce changes.

Change equals loss. One main reason for the negativity: When things change, you lose something. You may gain something as well, but a loss is usually involved.

Change management requires acceptance planning

To get people to accept change, the first step is to understand what, from their perspective, they feel they’re losing. If you can empathize with their feelings—and possibly compensate for the loss—you’ve taken a giant first step toward acceptance.

Here are four more factors—the four C’s—to promoting acceptance of change:

1. Caring. Listening and responding to people’s reactions is just as important as explaining the reasons for change.

2. Control. People want input into how change will be implemented. But never ask for input unless you plan to consider it.

3. Choice. Employees feel better if they are given options as part of the change process. The more choices they have, the more they feel in control.

4. Competence. Workers are happier about change if they feel they have the skills and abilities to succeed after the change. The faster you can help someone move through the learning curve, the faster they will accept the change.

Office Communication Toolkit: Tip #9

15 questions to ask employees in their first 60 days

Recruiting, hiring and training new employees can eat up a manager’s time. The last thing a manager wants to do is restart the process all over again because that new hire just stood up and walked out the door after three months.

Make it a point to meet with new hires within the first 60 days. Your goal: Discover their likes/dislikes about the job and environment, see if the job meets their expectations and nip potential problems in the bud.

View these one-on-one chats as a continuation of new-employee orientation and a way to gain fresh insight into your department and the organization. Start the meeting by reminding new employees that you’re glad they’re part of the organization, and that you value their input and observations.

Access the revealing 15 questions to ask new hires in Office Communication Toolkit.

Office Communication Toolkit: Tip #10

Becoming a better boss: 13 steps to success

Managers aren’t only responsible for an organization’s fiscal assets; they’re also responsible for its human assets.