I was recently the volunteer manager for a day at the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) conference in Chicago. My challenge was coordinating the efforts of more than 100 volunteers to ensure our attendees, speakers, and ASTD staffers had everything they needed to make it a great event. The day was a big success, in part because I remembered three simple principles for effectively communicating with employees (or volunteers).
- Use Visuals
- Keep it Simple
- Make it Two-way
There are three primary ways we take in information: by listening, by seeing, and by doing. People tend to have a dominant, or preferred, learning style even though we typically rely on all three.
According to Lou Russell’s Accelerated Learning Fieldbook, the most preferred learning style is learning by seeing.
Do these percentages align with how you typically explain expectations to employees (or volunteers)?
How can you make your employee communication more effective by adding visual elements?
One of the strategies I used to manage volunteers at the ASTD conference was to do as much showing as I did telling. (I also mixed in a healthy dose of having them do stuff to ensure they got it.) The payoff was volunteers quickly got the message with minimal effort.
Keep it Simple
The most important part of our message can get lost if we surround it with two much fluff. Consider these two examples – which one is easier to understand?
- Why is the sign on the right so much more effective?
- How much faster could you communicate if you concentrated on what you want your employees to know, understand, and do?
- How can you simplify the messages you give to your team?
In Chicago, I realized it was essential to keep my messages simple. I focused on telling people exactly what they needed to know and then I encouraged them to figure out the rest using the tools and resources that were available to them. I was amazed at how many times volunteers came up with innovative ideas that I never would have thought of on my own.
Make it Two-way
Short-term retention dramatically increases when communication flows in both directions. The graph below shows the average short-term retention rates for various types of communication (Source - Bob Pike's Creative Training Techniques Handbook):
How to make sure they get it, and get it quickly:
- Require interaction whenever you set expectations.
- Spend less time telling and more time asking open-ended questions.
- Observe employees in action so you can give them feedback on their performance.
It's easy for supervisors to use the "fire and forget" method of management when things get hectic. They fire off an email and then forget about the assignment. The downside is employees often misunderstand what's expected or don't fully buy-in. I followed my own advice a lot at the ASTD conference in Chicago and was rewarded with a group of motivated volunteers who cheerfully did whatever was required to get the job done.