Hay research supports importance of leader communication

Posted on November 23, 2005 8:53 am by | Internal | Deconstructing Larkin

In his rebuttal to my argument that executive communication is critical during times of change, Dr. T.J. Larkin wrote, “In this context, the book concludes that the type of communication most likely to change employee behavior: targets frontline supervisors, relies on face-to-face communication, and deals with issues relevant to the future of the local work area.  Our book supports this conclusion with a review of 254 studies.” In fact, Dr. Larkin’s thesis—that communication not aimed at immediate supervisors and local work areas is a waste of time—is supported almost entirely by the research Dr. Larkin cites. In recent months, I have been reporting equally valid research that supports the importance of leader communication.

Colleague Craig Jolley points to yet more such research, this study conducted by the Hay Group, which surveyed 1.2 million employees at 400 companies (not a bad sample) and determined that leader communication is “a leading factor in employee motivation, morale and even loyalty,” according to CIO magazine’s report on the study. Hay’s research also indicates that “keeping workers informed is not something executives do well.” Probably because they’ve been reading Dr. Larkin.

Okay, that’s not fair. Any number of reasons account for poor executive communication. It is the job of the internal communication department to help improve—not ignore—the leader’s communication role. Otherwise, their organizations risk high turnover from employees who don’t understand where their organization is headed. Not their own department’s role in achieving company goals, a critical role for immediate supervisors and managers. It is the executive’s job to communicate the big picture to the entire workforce. When that doesn’t happen, employees who don’t understand the big picture feel more inclined to provide their services elsewhere. “One of the most important predictors of employee commitment, and ultimately loyalty, is the connection between the individual and the big picture,” according to study author Mark Royal, senior consultant at Hay.

Among study findings:

  • Just 49% of employees are satisfied with the openness and honesty of communications in their companies
  • 42% were not satisfied with the company’s ability to keep them informed about how the business is doing
  • Among those employees who indicated they were inclined to stay with their employer, 57% were confident in the direction senior leaders communicated
  • Among those employees inclined to leave the company within two years, only 27 percent said they understood where their companies were headed

There’s plenty of evidence to support the importance of communication between workers and immediate supervisors. But every study I see indicates that executive communication is the dominant factor. You’re wise to employ both.



  • 1.I recently conducted a survey of 550 employees in the multi-national for which I work, regarding response to a recent comms program supporting change. The results clearly support your last sentence; you need to use multiple leadership channels.

    Those employees who heard about the change program from their manager (or another senior manager) were three times more likely to respond that they supported the program "highly" or "very highly". Simply reading about the program on the intranet or on email had no effect on employee support.

    A possibly less expected result was that employees showed a slight preference for senior execs as the channel, over their own managers. One can speculate why this is, but it could be that senior execs are seen as more knowledgable and therefore more credible.

    It seems that the difference between different kinds of managers as your comms channel is not the main issue in creating change - rather it is getting the managers at all levels to be engaged, consistent and communicative.

    Linus | November 2005

  • 2.Exactly right, Linus. It's not a question of WHICH channel to use, but rather a question of what strengths and outcomes you get from each channel. Immediate supervisors are translators, interpreting high-level messages so they're meaningful in the workplace. Senior leaders, though, establish the big picture. If employees have no confidence that the people in charge are making sound decisions, then there is no confidence in the organization no matter what employees hear from their managers. This is what the research -- including yours -- is making abundantly clear!

    Shel Holtz | November 2005 | West Hills, CA

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