When I was growing up, many of us we were convinced that aliens really did exist and would eventually reveal themselves to us. It wasn’t difficult to imagine that life could exist on a few of the billions of planets spread across the universe. When we acted out that first contact, the person playing the “alien” would typically say, “Take me to your leader.”

Now older and perhaps wiser, we don’t look for spaceships descending from the sky—and we wouldn’t automatically consider our company’s senior leadership to be the best people to manage an interstellar meeting, if we had the opportunity to arrange one. In fact, survey results seem to indicate that at least one-third of us would beg to be taken away in the space ship, rather than remain behind in a work environment that had failed to engage us.

But let’s talk about how to improve communications within an organization. Primary takeaways of a preconference workshop at the Melcrum Strategic Communication Management Summit 2008 in Chicago included:

  • The role senior management plays in employee engagement,
  • Challenges facing senior management today, and
  • Tips for preparing a case for better senior leadership communication.
  • Communication expert Roger D’Aprix, a vice president at ROI Communications, and fellow ROI VP Michelle Glover led a workshop that was titled, “Improving Employee Engagment through Effective Leadership Communication.”

    D’Aprix stated that a company’s leader is the single most effective communication tool professionals have to engage the hearts and minds of employees. He pointed to separate research findings from Melcrum and Towers Perrin that indicate the top driver of employee engagement to be the actions of senior leaders.

    [See my podcast for an interview with Roger D’Aprix that centers on the third driver of employee engagment–social responsibility–and a preview of his soon-to-be-published book, “The Credible Company. Communicating With Today’s Skeptical Workforce.”]

    D’Aprix and Glover shared results of a survey that ranked the level of engagement of various reporting levels within organizations. The results are:

    – Senior executives (53%)
    – Director/Managers (25%)
    – Supervisors (16%)
    – Salaried workers (14%)
    – Hourly workers (12%)

    Their take was that people closest to information were the most engaged. The need is to bring information effectively to supervisors, salaried and hourly workers. “Engagement is just one factor for success, but it is a very powerful factor,” D’Aprix said. “People will go the extra mile and bring more energy when they are engaged.”

    To promote greater employee engagement, pay attention to the communication behavior of your leaders, he said. One key to engagement is to have effective and engaged leadership at the top, Glover and D’Aprix emphasized. D’Aprix added that employees no longer are a “cost of doing business,” they are the means of doing business–particularly in service-oriented markets like the United States. Therefore, organizations should demonstrate their interest in employees by researching the needs of their employees as thoroughly as they do their customers’ needs.

    D’Aprix said the old-fashioned “command-and-control” management style, where leaders demand more and expect constantly better results, is not going to work with today’s workforce.

    “Lead people well, keep them involved and you will improve the retention and performance of your organization,” he said.