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How effective is your leadership communication strategy? This is, of course, assuming you have one.

In my work as a human resources consultant to large organizations, I often hear horror stories about the lack of a communication strategy, or just plain ineffective communications. Leaders with the highest levels of employee engagement and productivity know how important it is to follow a defined communication strategy that spells out how and when communications will be done.

Research suggests that the average employee spends 70 per cent of their day communicating in some form, and miscommunication or lack of communication is one of the biggest reasons for interpersonal conflict and employee disengagement that costs companies millions of dollars in lost productivity.

For leaders to successfully implement any communication strategy, they first need to appreciate the six parts of the communication process:

1) The sender initiates a message.

2) The content of the message is determined.

3) The message is sent through a verbal or electronic or physical channel.

4) The message is received by the recipient.

5) The message is processed by the receiver.

6) The receiver provides feedback, questioning or agreeing with the meaning and intentions of the message.

It's not advisable for leaders to assume that when they send a message, it will be received and understood with the intention it was sent. For example, a large percentage of verbal messages get deleted, forgotten, distorted or generalized. Simply asking the receiver what he or she heard or read can save a great deal of time and frustration.

How effectively a message is received depends on how the message is transmitted. Routine interactions, such as those made face-to-face, have less chance for ambiguity, while non-routine communications have more chance to be misunderstood.

The more complex the message, the greater the potential for ambiguity. When this is the case, it's best to select a method such as face-to-face communication – which includes video conferences, speeches, and teleconferences. The advantage of verbal communication is that a large amount of information can be shared quickly, and it often provides an opportunity for immediate feedback.

One risk to keep in mind when messages are shared with a work force through many people is that the original meaning can become distorted. While written communication has more room for ambiguity, it does allow for communication to be documented and stored in the format it was intended.

Most written communication is more thought out; however, it doesn't allow for immediate feedback (with the exception of e-mail) to confirm whether the receiver has processed the message correctly. And when the message has some ambiguity or is complex, the meaning can be missed.

The value of written communications that are highly routine, such as the announcement of a simple benefit change, is that it's faster and takes less energy than verbal communication.

Leaders who have the awareness and inclination to develop a disciplined communications strategy will increase their overall communication effectiveness, because their strategy will outline the expectations and guidelines as to how and when different kinds of communications are used.

Leaders can't assume that everyone they work with understands how to be an effective communicator or the importance of the method of communication, so there is value in providing a framework for effective communication.

Perhaps one of the best ways to increase employee engagement is for leaders to clearly set expectations of their managers for communicating and sharing information.

Finally, keep in mind that not communicating sends a powerful message that's most likely different than your intentions.

Bill Howatt is the president of Howatt HR Consulting and founder of TalOp, in Kentville, N.S. Website: