Effective Employee Communication Starts With Transparency

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Your internal communication strategy will largely define both your employee experience and how your leadership is viewed throughout your organization. In the book, "The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers," author and venture capitalist Ben Horowitz says one of the biggest challenges that CEOs and executives face is maintaining open and honest communication with their teams.

As part of a series on must-read books for HR leaders, we're taking a closer look at Horowitz's own experience as a CEO and how it can help you improve communication throughout your organization.

Here are three lessons HR leaders can implement today.

1. Be Realistic and Avoid "The Positivity Delusion"

The positivity delusion is the idea that pretending everything is going fine with your business when things are clearly not. "One of the most important management lessons for a founder/CEO is totally unintuitive," writes Horowitz. "My single biggest personal improvement as CEO occurred on the day when I stopped being too positive."

He describes a conversation with his brother-in-law, who climbed telephone poles for a communications firm. Horowitz met one of the firm's executives and asked his brother-in-law if he knew him. The telephone lineman described the executive as someone who came by quarterly to "blow sunshine" and keep moving. In other words, the lack of transparency combined with false positivity created an environment that eroded trust.

Employees can see how a business is performing from different perspectives in the business. Communicating in a way that's inconsistent with their experience can quickly destroy their faith in the organization's leadership. When you tell the truth, employees are more likely to feel that everyone's playing on the same team.

2. Increase Transparency

As leaders map out their communication with the organization at large, it's important think about transparency at a high level. What Horowitz learned is that his natural instinct was to gloss over what was happening, but it was important to be clear and honest. By opening up about the state of the business, he was able to invite employees into solving the problem. For example, if sales are lagging at your business, it's important to let people know. This can incentivize your team to work harder to meet quarterly and annual goals. It can provide the key to both maximizing productivity and coming up with innovative solutions to challenges that a CEO or HR department would never think of on their own.

3. Be Candid in Individual Discussions and Layoffs

Horowitz writes extensively about the challenges of talent management. From hiring to managing to firing, CEOs and HR leaders are constantly faced with human capital related issues. Consider how communications are handled during layoffs. Horowitz notes how incredibly difficult these events can be on leaders. However, he argues that transparency and clear communication are essential to ensuring the future loyalty of staff who stay. From holding an open business meeting where you discuss the events and coming impact, to being available to support managers who must lay off their own staff, being present and willing to talk through your organization's most challenging times is the mark of a good leader, Horowitz says.

Creating a culture of transparency starts with committing to a clear internal communication strategy. As an HR leader, be honest about how the business is performing. You'll build trust and engage your team in taking the organization's performance to the next level.

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