When you connect meaningfully with your customer or team you can satisfy your customers and ensure high team morale. Effective communication can help you connect meaningfully with people. And what is the business impact of doing this? Well, Watson Wyatt’s 2005/2006 Communication ROI Study found that between 2000 and 2004, companies with most effective communication programs returned 57% more to their shareholders than companies with the least effective communication programs. Good communication is among the top five characteristics needed by teams and leaders to succeed in a complex working environment. A key factor that emerges from studies of successful managers is that they have a regular and meaningful communication process with their staff. They connect! Let’s look at how this meaningful connection is established.
Crafting the connection
For communication to achieve positive results for you, it is essential to clearly establish objective of the communication, timeframe for it and how and when it is to be done. Every conversation you have, every communication you make in the work context is taking you a step closer to a goal. So it is important you craft each one of the communications with care. Here are a few practices which can help you do this.
Set and manage expectations - Think of your communications as a set of requests and promises. Promise something only if you can follow through with it.Also, if the “promise” is not clearly defined and understood, the actions will not meet expectations. Eg. If there are gaps in understanding between you and your Manager, your performance will always be disappointing to your Manager. It is therefore good to clearly communicate your understanding and get agreement on it.
Say the same thing to everyone - Consistency in communicating a message is important, whether within your team or across groups. Gone are the days when it was possible to develop tailor-made communications for different groups. In today's networked society where information spreads fast through blogs, social networks and other kinds of speedy media, every group can become aware of the communications to others / other groups.
Say often and say it in different ways - Ever wondered why after having mentioned about a task to your subordinate it never gets done. Some messages have to be repeated to be understood and to have the desired results. So send an email, include it in the monthly goals and talk about it your team meetings.Different people absorb information in different ways. So present information in different ways. Speak, write, in small groups, individually or using pictures and diagrams.
Timing is everything - Well timed communications create positive energy. Even though the communication itself may not be pleasant, timely communication prevents negative energy from being generated. A feedback to an employee has to be given immediately after the behavior has occurred. If the company is facing some tough challenges it is better to convey the true picture as fast as possible rather than giving way to rumors about the same.
Walk the talk - In any communication that requires the receiver to follow what is advocated, the communicator should take the lead. This demonstrates the communicator's commitment. So don’t just say “Cut costs” demonstrate ways in which you are cutting costs yourself.
Build in transparency - Base your decisions on visible and logical factors. People want to know why they are being asked to do or not to do specific things. Such knowledge not only helps them execute their tasks more effectively but also helps them accept the instructions and decisions more willingly. Even adverse decisions like a retrenchment can be made acceptable if employees understand their rationale.
Maximize openness and minimize defensiveness - Sometimes, maybe it is your communication style that generates emotional reactions instead of thoughtful responses. Try changing the questions you ask. Instead of asking “Why are we falling short of this month’s sales goal?” ask “What do you think we can do to ensure we meet our sales goal?” In the first case you make the listener feel defensive, and in the second case he/she will feel involved in the solution (versus being accused of the problem) and will be receptive to brainstorming alternatives. Take a leaf from’ Appreciative Inquiry’ here. AI is based on the premise that “organizations change in the direction in which they inquire” And if organization culture is built around “Appreciative Inquiry” – things which have gone well as against organizations which inquire into problems, some of the results are enhanced cash flows, cost reductions and increased staff morale.
Get the communication tool right - Select communication methods appropriate for target audience. For instance for communicating with an employee in another location you may want to use e-mail, instant messaging, intranets, social media and other web tools. There are some very interesting possibilities in the new age communication tools. While company intranets can serve as central hubs of information about the organization for employees, teams can hold brainstorming sessions or maintain ongoing conversations with questions and answers on a blog. You can even use wikis to manage projects, share best practices and research case studies. The CEO can keep a blog or a podcast and companies can use RSS feeds to send regular news to employees. If an organization plans to use new age communication tools then it is important to effectively implement them and provide necessary training and support in the use of the same. This will ensure that employees experience higher levels of communication satisfaction.
Connecting effectively by knowing your audience
An important step in connecting to people is being aware of who you are connecting with and what essential information they need. Typically this is what will work with the four groups you regularly communicate with at the workplace.
- Executive level (board of directors, executive staff, your direct manager)
- High level
- Address their concerns in their language
- Focus on impact on business and ROI
- Be immediate
- Take hierarchy into consideration (depending on the culture)
- Team level (your direct reports, consultants, vendors)
- Explain the technical background
- Outline and explain requests, and justify outcomes
- Contain clear instructions and clear conditions for satisfaction of requests
- Internal customers level (peers, other functional groups)
- Be clear, concise, and simple
- Quick and precise
- Explain the when, where, why, and why not
- Exhibit extreme patience
- Repeat over and over again
- Make it easy for recipients to access facts on their own
- External customers level
- Be politically correct
- Be aware of revenue impact
- Be conscious of security and breach of contract issues
- Take the lead from the marketing/sales departments as to the approved methods of communicating with outside customers
Internal Communication Best Practices
Here are some internal communication best practices that organizations, managers and individuals can follow.
Two way is the best way - If you want internal communication to succeed it is essential that communication be ‘two way’ i.e., employees should not only receive communication, but always have a chance, and be encouraged to ask questions, discuss and express their ideas. Asking for feedback identifies problem areas where messages are misunderstood or not received at all. One-way communication can fail because those delivering the message are not always in a position to know whether it has been received or understood. Thus internal newsletters, is not a substitute for managers communicating directly with employees.
Don’t hold back bad news - Very often good news is given, bad news is withheld. Be it feedback on individual poor performance or difficulties the company is facing, if they are not shared and discussed with the employees an important opportunity to build trust and to improve performance is lost. So don’t just share the good news, but also share bad news if any. People put in that extra "discretionary effort" when they are kept informed openly and honestly on aspects of their job and the business and they feel that they are being listened to with empathy.
Make communication automatically happen, regularly - Can you do this? Oh yes, by ensuring that the necessary triggers are in place! By ensuring communication is an integral part of organization processes and systems you can ensure ongoing communication. For instance feedback mechanisms and sharing best practices internally should be an integral part of organizational performance and individual performance management system. Provide regular, on-going opportunities for employees to provide feedback to management. The opportunities can be provided through employee surveys, suggestion boxes, town hall meetings, individual or small group meeting with managers, and an organizational culture that supports open, two-way communication.
Encourage communities of practice - ‘Communities of practice’ are formed by people who collaborate to share best practices around a common vocation or passion. For e.g., Researchers tapping other experts across the globe for specialized knowledge in developing new products. Invest in developing these kinds of networks and deliberately design them to foster measurable business results.
Measure Improvements - The trick here is to measure improvements in your performance and not just communication since you are ultimately using communication to achieve your work goals. Have there been changes in the way your team communicate with customers? Are you getting closer to your customers? Is the perception of your department changing for the better? Is staff morale getting better? Is the team working together well? Is employee retention improving? Is good information being created and communicated throughout your department on a timely basis?
Be it giving work instructions, aligning individual goals to company goals, inspiring team members or understanding team needs, communication forms a key factor in making these connections successful. One important point to remember is that all communication should be made with genuineness and honesty to achieve the desired result. Only when your communication is sincere and conveys what you really feel, will it be really meaningful and make a connection.
- Role of Internal Communication in Success of Today’s Organization, Jan 13, 2009
- Osborne, S, ‘Organization Communication’
- Thachappilly, G, “Communication Management has Changed Drastically”, Sep 21, 2009
- Fox , B.J, ‘Good communication practices should be viewed as deliverables’, August 30, 2005
- Laseter, T and Cross, R, ‘The craft of connection’,strategy+business issue 44,Autumn 2006
- ‘Solutions for Improving Workplace Communication’, Jul 15, 2010