Wondering how to improve productivity? Try having a simple conversation. Said another way, it’s about linking effective communication and performance.

For any business, the power to motivate your people effectively is worth its weight in gold.

The challenge is figuring out how to draw out the best possible performance from your employees on a consistent basis.

The secret is having conversations with employees. Said another way, it’s about linking effective communication and performance.

“How’s it going? How’s the family? How’s your workload? Any concerns? Here are a couple things I’d like you to keep an eye on …”

The above conversation – questions, answers and all – takes no more than a few minutes. Still, managers find it difficult to fit these short employee checkups into their schedule.

But forgoing these quick chats can open the door for big performance problems. That keeps the employee, department and company from reaching their respective goals.

Here’s how managers can “talk up” employee performance.

What motivates employees

Every leader wants their employees to use their talents to the fullest capacity. But realistically, it’s not possible for this to be done 100 percent of the time. Everyone is bound to go through a brief dip in performance and productivity.

Therefore, it’s important to know what motivates people.

To name a few, employees might be motivated by:

  • A paycheck
  • Self-development or to stretch themselves
  • Risk or change
  • The approval of their peers or management
  • The prospect of earning a promotion
  • The allure of advancing their career, even if it means changing employers

As a leader, it’s your job to help your team power through those slumps and bring performance and engagement levels back to their peaks. The best means to do that is by appealing to an individual’s motivators.


You have the potential to transcend those common denominators with nothing more than simple, pleasant conversation.

Why effective communication and performance are linked

Clear, consistent and genuine interaction can make a substantive, enduring impact on your workforce.

By making it a standard practice to engage in conversations with your employees, you open the lines of communication, which can yield all manner of dividends.

Some tips:

  1. You don’t have to be gregarious, outgoing or even a people person – just be yourself.
  2. People can often sense when someone is being authentic. Inauthenticity shows.
  3. Set a tone of sincerity by giving the employee a judgment-free space to articulate their challenges and engage in honest dialogue.
  4. Listen and demonstrate empathy. Empathetic leaders can go a long way toward building a lasting bond and driving organizational performance.

When employees feel like leaders are attuned to their emotional needs, they demonstrate higher levels of:

  • Helping behavior
  • Moral reasoning
  • Connectedness
  • Stronger interpersonal relationships

This can translate to higher levels of trust between team members. As a result, employees can become more likely to share important information with peers both on and off their team.

Teams led by empathetic leaders tend to exhibit:

  • Better intra-team collaboration
  • Stronger commitment to the company
  • Lower turnover rates than those led by less-compassionate leaders
  • More willingness to tackle a higher quantity and more complex projects

How to cut through the clutter

As you seek meaningful communication with your employees, be mindful that we live in an era of constant distraction from email, texts, smartphone reminders and many other stimuli.

Face-to-face (or video) conversation is still the best way to make an impression. It also decreases the amount of written electronic communications from you, which makes your future emails and instant messages more impactful.

Don’t be afraid to ask how they’re doing on personal level. Get to know who you’re working with – at least to some degree.

“How was your weekend?” “Has your daughter settled into first grade well?”

When it comes to work talk, ask the right questions and then listen.

Ask plain questions that start from square one and get to the root of the problem. For example:

  1. Tell me your understanding of the objectives you must meet.
  2. What do you feel is holding you back from meeting your objectives?
  3. Why do you think that?
  4. How would you overcome this roadblock?

More important than asking the right questions is keeping quiet and being a good listener. One of the biggest sources of frustration employees face is feeling like they are not being heard.

Offer frequent feedback

For both new and longtime employees, regular conversation provides the opportunity to ask questions and offer organic feedback and guidance.

Employees might feel like a nuisance if they must knock on your door or send an email every time they have a question about an assignment.

When you take the initiative to speak with them every day or two (even if it’s casual chit-chat), you create a comfort level with your employees. Make them feel at ease asking questions.

Offer every opportunity to clearly explain what’s expected of them and their performance. Remember that feedback is a two-way communication and should not be reserved for negative comments or during performance reviews.

If your feedback is entirely criticism, employees are more likely to react by hiding mistakes and shifting blame. Instead, offer both praise and constructive criticism, and ask employees to share their opinions and offer solutions.

One size doesn’t fit all

Your effort to communicate should be applied consistently to all employees. But how they react to it will differ based on their personality type, and that’s perfectly acceptable.

Introverted or quiet employees might be less responsive to your efforts to engage publicly. However, they may respond better to a more private setting. At a basic level, your intentions are the same, but your strategies should be tailored to the individual.

Strong leaders are empathetic, which means noticing the feelings of others and acting on those observations could be the key to elevating your employees’ productivity.

Empathy means listening with the intent to understand, not just waiting to reply.

Summing it all up

Talk to your people. Casual chit chat can help you better understand how they like to operate, and it builds a relationship of comfort and trust.

Do that early and often. Then when stress runs high, or a difficult conversation arises, you can deliver your message in a way they’ll understand. And if the employee is struggling, they are more apt to come to you for help – before a minor issue spirals out of control.

For more information on creating a link between effective communication and performance, download the Insperity guide to employee engagement.