Many Employee Engagement Surveys reveal “Poor Communication” by management as something employees feel keeps them from becoming more engaged with the organization.

But will improving communication improve engagement, or is poor communication simply an indicator of poor engagement?

When an employee expresses concern about a lack of communication in the office, it will often sound something like this:

“My manager made the decision to change the direction of this campaign weeks ago, and I only found out about it today! I wasted a whole week on this mock-up. We sure have poor communication here!”

“I have my performance management review tomorrow. I have no idea what my boss is going to say. He never gives me any feedback. We sure have poor communication here!”

While these are real issues, they are flagged as “poor communication” simply because that is the best language that employees have to describe the situation. They believe there is a lack of communication when information does not reach them in time. They also think that poor communication is why they’re in the dark when it comes to whether they are meeting expectations.

Symptom or Cause?

What many employees don’t realize is that poor communication is a symptom of a deeper root cause problem: the absence of a formal accountability and authority framework.

Who is to blame when employees are not provided with timely information or constant feedback to let them know what is happening in the organization. Or how they are performing? While the employees may express a lack of communication as the issue, the root cause lies with their manager. It is the manager who has failed to establish and maintain open and working channels with their employees.

When the executive management team sees “poor communication” in the results of an employee engagement survey – what is the correct course of action? Is it to publish more newsletters, send more memos, or hold yet another town hall? No.

Initiatives like these are doomed to fail because these approaches only address the symptoms, not the cause. Treating the symptoms is like giving an aspirin to treat a fever. The fever may go away for a while. But because the underlying disease remains, the fever will likely come back.

For the information to be meaningful to an employee, it must be provided by setting proper context in the right size and at the right time. Only a manager can do this – it cannot possibly be done centrally.

Poor communication is a manager effectiveness issue. While it is certainly about communication, it cannot be improved by tackling it at the organization-wide level. It requires different behavior by managers. Managers, from the top of the organization to the front line need to be crystal clear about their accountability and authority. Managers doing their managerial leadership work is one of those accountabilities. Managerial work includes being in touch with each team member, and keeping them in the loop on anything that will impact their work. In other words: communicating!


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