ATD Blog

3 Ways Managers Can Communicate to Motivate

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Disengaged employees cost U.S. companies $450 to $550 billion annually, according to a popular Gallup study, and a whopping 67 percent of respondents said they were disengaged with their jobs. It’s no surprise increasing employee engagement tops most CEO’s annual wish lists, and research suggests a key to achieving this objective is improving managers’ communication skills. 

The most important skill area related to managerial success is communication, according to 83 percent of respondents in a recent ATD study. For managers, effective communication—including targeted, actionable feedback—can build awareness and action toward better employee performance.

Managers Matter

Managers put strategic plans into action, secure employee buy-in on company strategies, ensure day-to-day operations run smoothly, and communicate progress up and down the organization. It’s no surprise, lack of communication between managers and reports dramatically affects employee engagement. 

Consider a few facts: As much as 70 percent of the variance in a team’s engagement can be traced to the manager’s influence, according to Gallup. Likewise, a recent Society for Human Resource Management study revealed 58 percent of employees say it’s very important to have a good relationship with their manager, yet only 40 percent of employees actually do. 

What can managers do to increase employee engagement? Here are three recommendations:


Conduct Regular Meetings

One way to build action toward better employee performance is a relatively simple fix: meet more frequently. Employees were three times more likely to be engaged if managers held regular meetings with their direct reports, according to a recent Gallup poll.

Deliver Frequent Feedback

Another way to increase engagement is to deliver frequent feedback. According to Mark Murphy at, nine out of 10 managers have avoided giving constructive feedback to their employees fearing they’ll react poorly. But that’s a myth. “Employees know that it’s tough to be successful in their careers if they’re not receiving sufficient constructive feedback,” writes Murphy. 


Murphy’s research also finds that only 29 percent of employees say they “always” know whether their performance is where it should be. Meanwhile, 39 percent of employees said “if given constructive feedback regularly, they’d take it well, even parsing it to figure out where exactly things went awry.”

Change the Way Managers Communicate

Every time you communicate, whether in a meeting, delivering a formal presentation, or when providing feedback in a one-on-one conversation, you must always have a specific objective in mind: something you need to accomplish. Then select a strong and specific intention—a one-word verb (for example, excite, challenge, or motivate)—to pursue that objective. Once activated, intention and objective will inform all aspects of how you deliver your message, including body language, vocal dynamics, gestures, facial expressions, and so forth. Without a specific intention behind your delivery—and one that is particularly in line with your objective—the best your message will be is ambiguous. 

To learn more about how you can change the way you communicate, join me at ATD 2017 International Conference & Exposition for the session: Influence Emotion to Motivate Action: Communication Techniques to Engage Any Audience


About the Author

G. Riley (Gary) Mills is the co-founder of Pinnacle Performance Company and co-author of The Pin Drop Principle. He has taught effective communication to executives and CEOs in more than 30 countries. He has guest-lectured or delivered keynotes at such events and institutions as the ATD International Conference & Exposition, Columbia University, London Chamber of Commerce, New York University, Young Presidents' Organization, Cox School of Business, Southern Methodist University, Learning and Skills Conference (London), SHRM (regional chapters), Singapore Management University, and Manchester United. He also co-founded a nonprofit company called The Bookwallah Organization, whose sole mission is to collect storybooks, set up libraries, and promote literacy in orphanages around the world.

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