Is Your Organization Sending Hidden Messages

Written by Chad Brines

8 Min Read

Workplace communication can be dramatically impacted not only by what is said but when and in what order it is said.  

Many, if not most, companies offer employee programs, implement culture initiatives, and host team-building events. However, when it comes to meetings or company communications, do companies send hidden messages to their employees?  

One of the fundamental principles that we teach at Braintrust is that effective communication is about sharing:

  • The right information 
  • Delivered the right way 
  • In the right order 

That includes individual selling, coaching, and leading and it is also true when companies (leadership) communicate with their employees.

A company’s vision statement, mission statement, or any other corporate tenet may state that employees (and culture by extension) are the most important or most valuable asset to the organization. Yet, when leadership hosts a town hall or an all-company meeting, many times, the first item discussed is the financial results and numbers or a wide-ranging business update.  Traditionally, the delivery order of topics is something like this:

  1. Financial Results
  2. Products/Services 
  3. Efficiency/Operations
  4. Culture/People

I have even seen it where people and culture aren’t even mentioned on the imperatives or key focus areas slide(s). In many scenarios, they are the last bullet, the last slide, or the last topic of discussion, which not so subtly communicates where they sit in importance to the business and in the minds of leadership.  That may not be the intention but it can be the impact.

Of course, not all leaders and organizations make this mistake, but many do.  Unfortunately, it may be completely unintentional and simply a lack of awareness of the hidden message being sent to the organization. Yet here is what that messaging says:

People and culture are not the focus nor the most important aspect of the business.

Maybe worse, if culture has been a historical challenge, it could be interpreted as the employee and culture initiatives are done solely as “must-haves” or “supposed to” or “check-the-box” programs.  This potential misstep is not limited to senior leadership or company-wide meetings. What about functional area leaders, division heads, sales leaders, etc.? When you start your meetings or your “state of the business” updates, where do people fall in the presentation order?

Sadly, this hidden messaging hazard also extends to written reports, KPIs, or other company communications. Many times, the top two to three items are business related while culture and employee items are listed near the end.  You may have a monthly KPI report that has financial metrics on page one, operational or efficiency metrics on page two, competitive updates on page three, and maybe some people and culture focus updates on page four or later. In the case of monthly KPI reports, one may think that those reports are limited to senior leadership viewing.  The truth is that others likely see or hear about these reports and interpret the order of importance for themselves. In addition, this can affect the mentality within middle-level management that financial results and operations are the main priority.  That thought process can then trickle down to all levels and, in one way or another, the employees hear the message loud and clear.

Post-Covid, many companies are now meeting live for the first time in years.  This could be the entire company or functional teams. What is the focus of the agenda to start the meeting?  Is it, “it is so great to see everyone for the first time in years” and then right into product slides, sales results updates, and a competitive landscape review?  

And let’s hope the results are not below forecast because the focus may shift quickly from “welcome to the meeting” right into “we need to talk”.  Think of it this way.  Let’s say your child returns home from college from halfway across the country and you have not seen them face to face for five months.  When they walk in the door is your conversation, “Welcome home!  Now, how are your grades?”  I doubt it.

According to Gallup’s annual survey, the majority (60-70% depending on the year) of employees are not engaged or actively disengaged in their jobs.  Many factors contribute to this insight, but part of the disengagement stems in large part from how they feel about their manager and company leadership, including if they feel valued.  If they feel like just a number or cog in the system, the job and relationship become transactional and as such, it is easy to see the job that way.

If your people are truly the most important aspect of the business, you should treat them as such, thus making sure your messages, hidden or not, are clear.  Every single interaction or communication that involves the employees should be viewed through the lens of “what message are we sending with our slides, presentation, or commentary”.  It’s so easy to get focused and dialed in solely on results, believe me, I know!  The reason many of us fall into this trap is that results and performance do matter, but performance starts with our people and our team.  When you truly start to filter everything through the lens of people first, you will create a team of engaged, committed, and aligned individuals.

At Braintrust, we believe it all starts with leadership, great coaches, and a shared vision.  A great coach values their team and each subsequent member. So, if you develop a team of world-class coaches creating a shared vision for each team member, you will watch engagement levels, culture, retention, and, oh, by the way, performance skyrocket!

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