As a business owner or manager in a blue-collar industry, communication with your frontline team is critical. It determines not only the results of their work, but how valued they feel within the company.
At the simplest level, everyone wants to feel valued and to find success. When we feel disposable or are failing in our role, we aren’t likely to stick around. More efficient communication with your frontline team—especially right now in the current labor market—will help increase employee satisfaction and performance, which ultimately results in client satisfaction as well.
Following are a few guidelines for more efficient communication with employees.
Statements Create Judgment, Questions Create Curiosity
A big part of a manager’s responsibility is to train and guide their team in the right direction. This includes not only initial training, but verification and retraining as needed. When you identify an employee has made a mistake or is not performing to company standards, it is your responsibility to redirect them. To do this most efficiently, instead of making statements, you should ask them questions.
Instead of saying “This isn’t how I trained you. You need to do A before B.” you might instead ask “I’m curious, why did you do B before A?” or “Tell me about your thought process on how you tackled today’s project.” Let them give you an answer, then redirect with a follow up question until you help them identify where or why their process isn’t working.
The benefit to this strategy is two-fold. First, it removes the chance of them feeling judged or threatened. This is important because it allows the frontline employee to feel valued; you are listening to their answer. This makes you more approachable in the future, either when they have a question, or when you need to retrain them again.
Second, this is a much more effective training method. Instead of telling them what they did wrong, you are helping them come to that conclusion on their own. By allowing them to talk through the problem, they are much more likely to be open to your advice and more likely to remember it next time. It allows them to learn instead of react.
Clear communication within a blue-collar company is important. As a manager of blue-collar employees you need to be clear, specific, and direct. Since the employees are the ones physically making things happen, they need the right information. As the Brené Brown quote goes “Clear is kind, unclear is unkind.”
That includes clarity on company processes such as how to clock in and out, how to communicate client requests when they are on site, and more. But it also includes clarity on job expectations. Who is responsible for which tasks? What materials are required for the day? Should they get these from the shop before they leave, or are they supposed to pick them up? What are the clients’ end-result expectations? How much time has been estimated? This type of information is best communicated through a system, ideally a software. If you are not utilizing a software to collect this data, it is easy for information to be inconsistent or missed.
When we do not provide clarity, it is unfair to expect your team to deliver the results you are looking for. If they were not given a clear picture of the expectation in the first place, how can you expect them to achieve those results?
By providing clarity to our frontline workers we are setting them up for success. When your team is successful, so are you, and the client will also be satisfied. By being clear, we are being kind to our team, our clients, and ultimately ourselves.
It is important to “trust, but verify.” After you’ve trained a new employee on the company processes, follow up and verify their performance. When you give your crew clear expectations, perform a site check to verify their work. This doesn’t mean we don’t trust them or their ability. By verifying their work, you are supporting them in their success.
Even the most experienced employees may have an off-day and forget a step, or find themselves trying to be more efficient by cutting corners within a process that has a purpose they are not aware of. When we identify these problems, we must hold them accountable. This means being curious, asking questions, and redirecting them. Holding them accountable is not questioning their intentions.
If we do not retrain them we are enabling them. By enabling them we are letting them fail time and time again. No one likes failing, so don’t risk losing an employee because you wanted to avoid a conversation!
If you are a manager of blue-collar employees struggling to communicate effectively, the first step is identifying which of these areas you can improve on. Are you approaching corrections with curiosity? Are you providing your team with extreme clarity on their responsibilities? Are you holding them accountable for their mistakes?
You may be thinking “Easier said than done!” And you’re right, because some of these conversations can be uncomfortable or difficult. But remember: the ultimate goal is success. Your team needs to feel successful. When you leave one of these three communication steps out, you’re leaving a gap for failure. While you may be stepping out of your comfort zone, you have their best intentions in mind. And over time you’ll even become accustomed to having these once-difficult conversations with ease. As they say, practice makes perfect!