They CAN Handle the Truth!

Want employees who trust you and share ideas for improving your biz? Then you need to communicate. Here's how.

By Mark Henricks

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The biggest challenge in communicating with employees today isnot coping with a culturally diverse work force, overcoming theimpersonalization of e-mail or battling information overload to getyour message across. Instead, it's getting employees to trustyou and offer ideas for improving the business.

It was one of Tory Johnson's eight employees who firstsuggested expanding New York City-based Women For HireLLC to the West Coast in 2004. "It wasn't a case whereI said, 'We are going to expand and I want you to figure outwhat the best cities are,'" says Johnson, 34, founder andCEO of the $2 million career-fair organizer. "Someone came tome and said, 'Here's what I think, and here's why.'We did it, and it's been a huge growth opportunity forus."

While Johnson gives the employee credit for the suggestion, shesays that her efforts to create a workplace where bottom-upcommunication is encouraged laid the groundwork. And it takes morethan a memo, she says. She starts with the hiring process, askingcandidates to describe an occasion when they disagreed with aco-worker or a boss, rejecting those who demur in favor ofoutspoken types.

After hiring, Johnson continues to stress the need for employeeinput, telling them by e-mail and phone as well as face to facethat she values them and expects feedback, even when it'snegative. "It's very important to me to have people whoare honest and true to their beliefs, vs. saying what they think Iwant to hear just because I sign their paychecks," shesays.

Employers would do well to return the candor, says Shel Holtz,principal of HoltzCommunication + Technology in Concord, California, and authorof Corporate Conversations: A Guide to Crafting Effective andAppropriate Internal Communications. That means being upfrontabout bad news as well as good when it affects the company."Employees who are well-informed about the business canrecognize change and know what they can do to address that,"he says.

Companies with engaged employees will experience double-digitgrowth more often than those in which workers feel untrusted andunheard by the leadership, Holtz says. "What leads toengagement is trust," he adds. Companies create trust byconsidering employees' best interests and inviting them to takepart in decisions.

When Pleasanton, California, communications coach CarmineGallo interviewed a Hall-of-Fame list of entrepreneurs fromStarbucks' Howard Schultz to's Jeff Taylor for his book10 Simple Secrets of the World's Greatest BusinessCommunicators, trust was a common theme. "The wordauthentic kept coming up," Gallo says.

What does authentic mean? And how do you communicate it? Gallosays any medium, from company newsletters to personal phone calls,can and should be used. "It's making people feel as thoughthey share the vision, to open up their enthusiasm and passion bysharing stories about why you're doing what you do, says Gallo."I've heard from several admired business leaders thatnever before has such a premium been placed on building trust andshowing integrity."

While communicating with your employees can be challenging, thegood news is that it's not difficult to do things to motivateand empower workers that bigger companies will find hard to match."Employees demand more than paychecks, and smart leaders knowit," says Gallo. "Today's employees want to benurtured, inspired and recognized for their achievements, and theywant to feel part of something great."

Mark Henricks writes on business and technology for leadingpublications and is author of Not Just a Living.

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