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Critical Attributes of Communication

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Finding and keeping good employees is one of your greatest business challenges. Every day your best employees are tempted with seemingly great job offers. Make sure that your employees are contented, productive team members and those job offers might seem less tempting. To make this happen, managers must possess excellent communication skills to interview, hire, and keep great team members. Here are five critical attributes of good communication skills.

1. Hire good attitudes.

It's extremely important to have an employee who works hard, is positive, and is willing to be a team player. If you hire a person with the greatest technical skills but a rotten personality and bad habits, he will instill those bad habits in the rest of your team...and you will have problems with everyone, including your customers. You've seen the situation where a customer is unhappy with your best employee. The same customer "puts up with" another employee because he was friendly, explained the situation, etc. Hire good attitudes and work ethics. It saves money in the long run. When you interview, make sure you ask questions such as "Tell me a time when you disagreed with your boss. How did you resolve the situation?" Or "Tell me about a time when a customer had a problem at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon. What did you do?" These and other questions like these reveal a person's work ethic and attitude.

2. Establish clear goals and time frames for achievement of those goals.

Explain how the person will be evaluated for raises, promotions, and bonuses. This should be in writing, with both the employee and you signing off on the expectations. Then follow up on a regular basis, preferably monthly but at least quarterly, to review progress. It might appear hard to take time from your busy schedule to hold these meetings. However, frequent communications are critical for success and to overcome obstacles which might not have been foreseen when the goals were established.

3. Use immediate praise and discipline.

If you see a team member doing something right, praise him immediately. Likewise, if you see a team member doing something wrong, correct him immediately. Both incidents should be placed in that employee's permanent file. This way, when it is review time, you'll remember both the positive and the negative. Also remember to praise in public and punish in private. No one appreciates being corrected in front of his or her peers.

4. You don't always have to be nice; you have to be fair.

Sometimes your best performing employee will make a mistake. You must discipline him just as you would your worst performing employee. If your best performing employee makes one of the "immediately fireable offenses" stated in your company's policy and procedures manual, then he must be fired according to the manual, regardless of how much it might potentially hurt the team.

There also might be times when a difficult decision is necessary: a change in direction or layoffs affecting the entire team. After the decision is made, you must clearly explain the situation, what is now expected from the team, and how it will affect their career paths. Again, this should be put in writing. Managers get the privilege of making the tough decisions which could affect your best and worst performing team members. This is a critical skill to learn.

5. Continuous training — for yourself and your team members.

Soft skills (customer service, communications, etc.) are the toughest to justify. However, they are the most important skills to learn to take care of your customers, function well as a team, and succeed. Sometimes managers fear training, lest an employee leaves. The worst thing, however, is for an employee to need training, not get it, and stay!

When a team member returns from training, he needs to present what he learned to the group. He should include information on, for example, what he learned that will help generate more customers, keep more customers, increase productivity, or increase profitability. By teaching what he learned, he will reinforce what was taught to him.

When managing, be very clear about your expectations. And, if people are not performing, you have to correct the behavior immediately. This is the tough part. It's easy to manage when things are going well. It's much more difficult to discipline when someone isn't performing.

Money is a short-term motivator. Most people want to work in a comfortable environment where they feel good about coming to work and are treated well. You can never do anything about the great employee who relocates because his or her spouse got a great job in another city. However, if you follow the steps outlined above, you should have a happy, productive team.

About the Author

Ruth King is founder and chief evangelist for and the author of The Ugly Truth about Managing People (Sourcebooks, 2007) and The Ugly Truth about Small Business (Sourcebooks, 2006). You can reach her at 800-511-6844 or
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