Leaders and managers both play a key role in effective communication at your organization. Leaders--the senior people at the top of the organization--provide direction, context and vision. They are responsible for explaining where the organization is going and what employees need to do to get there.

Managers represent the "middle" of the organization--they report to leaders and directly supervise employees. Their job is to translate the big picture into action, by detailing how their employees need to do their jobs to accomplish the vision.

So far, so good, but how well are leaders and managers fulfilling those roles in your organization? The only way to tell for sure is to objectively measure. Self-assessment is notoriously unreliable. Asking leaders or managers to assess how well they communicate is like asking dieters how well they eat. The answer--lots of fruits and vegetables, no french fries--is always more positive than the reality. Because many managers want to do a good job at communication, they think they are effective. But as any dieter knows, desire is not the same as success.

"We're doing lots of communicating," one senior leader of a major company told me earlier this year. "We've got an intranet, e-newsletters, social media. . . we're really getting our message out."

"What about leaders? Are they communicating? Are managers spending time with their teams?" I asked him.

"Of course," he replied.

"Is communication effective?"

Once again, his response was quick. "Yes, yes!" But a few minutes later, as the conversation continued, something started to trouble him. "I'm not completely sure that any of our messages are sticking. Do our people really get it?"

The only way to know is to measure. And the first step is to define what you mean by "effective communication." Leading practice companies know that "good communication" can be defined and quantified. They set standards that determine whether leaders and managers are meeting them.

Once you've set a definition of what good looks like, conduct a survey consisting of statement questions: sentences that describe a situation and ask employees to respond to a four-point scale--strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree.

To measure leader and manager effectiveness, focus on these three areas:

  1. Communication activity. Do leaders and managers share information on a regular basis? Are they meeting specific objectives--for example, if the expectation is that managers will have monthly meetings with their staffs, is it actually happening? Typical survey questions might read: "My senior manager regularly communicates business information to all employees: or "My supervisor provides me with company information that is important and relevant to my job."
  2. Comprehension. If managers are indeed having monthly meetings, are employees getting the information they need? Do employees understand key concepts? Can they use that understanding to do a better job? Ask questions like these: "I understand the company's customer service goal well enough to answer questions about it." and "I know how I can do my job to support the goal of delivering improved customer service.")
  3. Interaction. Managers may be sharing information, but are they also engaging their people in dialogue? Can employees ask questions or raise objections? Do they feel that communication is truly two-way? Typical statements to uncover this dynamic might include, "The head of my business unit regularly engages in dialogue with employees," and, "My supervisor provides me with clear answers."