Author and presidential speechwriter James Humes says, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” Could there be any better illustration of this than what’s happening at Olivet Nazarene University? Here, their leadership shares six communication strategies you can implement today to ensure your employees know how valued they are.
I marvel at leaders who know what real communication is all about—and then generously share the best practices that can better the workplace culture with ministry organizations, everywhere. David Pickering, director of business and human resources at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL, is one such leader.
David has helped oversee 11 consecutive annual Employee Engagement Surveys with Best Christian Workplaces Institute. Recently, I listened to David describe one of the biggest takeaways of the survey.
We like to think of ourselves as personable. Building relationships—whether it involves our 5,000 students or 600 faculty and staff—is huge. In a tight-knit community like ours, communication is key.”
Because everyone’s so invested in the mission of the school—to honor Christ in all that we learn, say and do—everyone wants to stay informed. The understandable need to stay informed, combined with the prevalence of email, social media and cell phones, creates numerous communication challenges:
- How much information is enough?
- How do we sustain a personable culture amidst the ring tones and chirps of technology?
- What does real communication look like?
David would be the first to say he didn’t create the ONU culture. What he’s really done—within a robust, supportive community that transcends job titles, seniority and pay grades—is to help create and call out thriving examples of how clear, creative communication is bettering the university.
Here are six intentional ways ONU is tackling its communication challenges:
- Commemorate. “Every August, we kick off the new school year by honoring the five-year benchmarks of our faithful employees. People are treated to photos of how young they used to look. Thanking a person for his or her longtime service communicates gratitude and respect. It gathers our community around our shared commitment to Christ.”
- Celebrate. “We value birthdays as a way to affirm one’s life. When an employee opens a card with a hand-signed greeting and a $25 gift card to a local restaurant, we’re communicating special appreciation on a special day.”
- Update. “We’ve decided, as leadership, to over-communicate. Our goal is no more than one email per day. A bi-monthly supervisors’ luncheon keeps people in the know. We keep the entire ONU community abreast of news topics with advance notice of an event or issue we want the public to know. We keep things simple; our in-house newsletter is published on paper. Communication doesn’t need to be elaborate, just effective.”
- Recreate. “Five years ago we created an all-employees field day. There were some outrageously big cannonball splashes in the pool. It’s pure enjoyment and fun. Once, again, relationships.”
- Participate. “We’re not a perfect community by any means. When two of our employees got into a major disagreement, I invited them both to lunch and facilitated a face-to-face meeting so they had a safe place to communicate openly, some first steps toward resolution and healing.”
- Compensate. “During the Christmas season, President John Bowling and his wife, Jill, host a reception at which he personally hands each employee a cash bonus. It’s a tangible, personable, and meaningful way to communicate the value of each and every employee—and the value he or she contributes to the university.”
Healthy communication—one of our eight essentials of a flourishing workplace—has been a hallmark of ONU’s healthy workplace culture. ONU is a perfect example of how a flourishing culture leads to:
- High scores in trust between leaders, faculty and staff
- Impressive levels of employee engagement and commitment to the University
- Student and donor loyalty
- Healthy revenue growth and margin
Says David, “We find that creating and sustaining a flourishing culture actually trains people to be accountable to one another.
When I see my colleague demonstrate trust, compassion, patience or another Christian virtue, I become more accountable to myself, to others and the Lord. It’s all about creating a culture of generosity with each other and being for each other.”
How are you creating a culture of healthy communication in your organization? What specific strategies do you use to make sure each employee knows just how valued he or she is?