The declines took place across various areas of performance, says Ilene Gochman, a Chicago-based national practice director for organization effectiveness. Forty-nine percent of employees report having trust and confidence in the performance of senior management, down from 51 percent in 2004. Two other categories revealed a 4 percent decline since 2004. Fifty-three percent of workers say senior management makes changes to stay competitive, down from 57 percent, while 55 percent report that senior management takes steps to control costs, down from 59 percent.
Although the drops are not severe, they are troubling because they could foreshadow the beginning of a general downward trend in how workers feel about senior management, Gochman explains.
“The economy is somewhat strong and unemployment is under control, yet ratings are coming down,” she says. “Imagine what could happen if the situation became unstable.”
A key contributor in the ratings dip are chasms in communication strategies, which corporations have unwittingly let widen since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The attacks, coupled with the flurry of corporate scandals led by Enron, caused confusion and anxiety in the workforce.
Senior management tackled the problem by launching a variety of outreach campaigns for employees. More emphasis was placed on communications and personal interaction with workers during that period. These concerted efforts temporarily drove up performance ratings for senior management. However, it appears that corporations may be letting their guard down.
The key to getting back on a positive track could lie in adopting old-fashioned communication tactics. “Face time is crucial,” Gochman says. “Going on site and having lunches with employees in the cafeteria can work wonders.” She concedes, however, that there are limits on the amount of time and resources that senior management can dedicate to communicating in person with the workforce. She recommends using technology to get around this issue.
Posting messages on corporate intranets or sending out monthly newsletters, however, may not do the trick. There are other tools that are far more personable and generate more visibility, such as sending phone messages to the workforce at large or using podcasts to broadcast messages from supervisors.
A solid communication strategy is not just good for improving the ratings of senior management; it also improves the overall well-being of a company because it yields a more engaged workforce, Gochman explains. An engaged workforce can have a positive impact on performance factors, such as productivity and the market premium of a company.
“None of this is rocket science,” Gochman says. “But for some reason companies don’t pay as much attention as they should to developing a sound communication strategy.”