Why human communication is key to engaging your people and improving performance

For many leaders, engagement is a biannual conversation — a retrospective snapshot of how effective their people and culture strategy has been in driving business outcomes. Smart leaders, however, aren’t waiting two years to discover the need for change. They’re embracing proactive engagement measures to improve performance.  

In 2016, Gallup released their Q12 Meta-Analysis, a comprehensive study examining the impact of employee engagement on business performance. As well as discovering a strong correlation between high engagement and better business outcomes including profitability productivity and shareholder returns, the study detailed two methods of measuring engagement. 

The first was reflective measures. These include pride, loyalty, intent to stay with the company, and most importantly — discretionary effort. All important and impactful insights, but like any reflective measure, by the time they’re reviewed it’s too late to do anything about them. 

The second way of assessing engagement were formative measures. These include: ‘I know what is expected of me at work’, ‘in the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work’, ‘my supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person’, ‘there is someone at work who encourages my development’, ‘the mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important’ and ‘I have a best friend at work’. 

The results of these measures are driven by the connection between manager and team member. It’s a connection built on the foundations of human communication.  

Managers can start by changing the language 

The relationship between manager and employee can make or break the employee experience. More than ever, organisations are asking their managers to step up and lead. To go beyond managing tasks and process. To engage with their teams in an innately human way to increase engagement and drive high-performance cultures.  

The teams of the very near future will be vastly different. The ability to go beyond technical expertise and embrace human communication skills will be what keeps leaders relevant: inspiring people to do their best work; helping them navigate inevitable change; increasing productivity; promoting innovation; keeping them safe, healthy and happy.  

We can define this approach as speaking human — pushing beyond typically bland, jargon-filled corporate messaging to consider the way people naturally communicate. It’s an approach grounded in psychology and neuroscience, using emotions, narratives, inclusive language and language that fosters connection. 

At the core of good leadership is the ability to influence — to change or make something happen. Without influence, nothing and no-one changes. And that’s as good as a death knell in this fast-paced business landscape. 

Choose any heavyweight through history and consider what makes them memorable. Whether it was Winston Churchill rallying England through war, Martin Luther King Jr. taking a stand for civil rights or Steve Jobs making Apple relevant again, their ability to influence came from exceptional human communication skills.  

These leaders understood the power of language to inspire people and bring them together, and how to use words, imagery and narratives to evoke emotions.  

Use the science of communication to cut through the noise 

Attention is everything. Without it, leaders risk wasting time and money developing well-intentioned, potentially brilliant strategies, programs and initiatives that fail before they ever get off the ground. Not because they weren’t good or necessary, but simply because no-one paid them any attention. 

The challenge is that life is busy and work is busier. It’s an increasingly connected world, with a barrage of priorities constantly competing for eyes, ears and minds. Emails, meetings, memos, posters, phone calls, messages and all kinds of asynchronous communications: Yammer, Slack, various message platforms — and the socials. People’s days are crammed with more and more. Their attention spans stretched to breaking. 

To survive amidst the noise, people have become skilled at sifting irrelevant or uninspiring information. This makes attention an incredibly valuable resource — a finite one at that. And, like any other business resource, be it money, machinery, time or space, attention should be wisely invested in, carefully managed and never, ever squandered. 

Leaders need to take an active role in cutting through the noise and earning attention. They need to draw people in, make them curious, make them laugh, surprise them, tantalise them with stories, visualise content to make it easier to consume, be relevant and interesting, and above all — make people feel something.  

Provide opportunities for connection and developing deeper relationships 

The same communication tactics that help gain attention and influence people, also lead to an increased connection over time. By inspiring curiosity, fostering anticipation, engineering surprise and delight, simplifying and visualising content, embracing emotions and considering language, leaders can build engagement and better business performance as a result. 

In an increasingly complex and challenging business environment, it’s the distinctly human qualities of connection and the strength of pre-existing relationships that will be the difference between smooth sailing and choppy seas. And this makes opportunities for connection an investment that will pay dividends in the future. 


Jennifer Jackson

I head up an award-winning team of strategic, creative, business savvy individuals to help pioneering leaders change the future of work.

We believe in the difference-makers and visionaries, trend-setters and forward-thinkers, influencers and leaders. Our work extends, elevates and executes the ideas and vision of these rare few, to move the many — the 1.3 billion people who drive our world’s largest organisations.

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