Internal communication is often cited to us by CEOs as a major issue in their companies. We estimate that communication is one of the top three reasons why businesses are not performing up to expectations. Dropped or delayed customer requests, rework and other preventable waste, and interpersonal hassles are just a few of the costs and potential costs of inadequate communication. Because of its pervasive impact in all corners of your business, communication is a strategic issue. It’s time to treat it as such.
The communication behaviors you observe right now reveal your culture, and are the results of formed habits. You might not have officially decided upon them, but fell into them over time. That means they may be (likely are) misaligned with the business you have today. To whom do you communicate, about what, how often, and through what channels? Do you communicate one on one, or in groups?
Who’s in the loop?
Your choices about who you share information with reveal who you think is important in your business. When you are transparent and choose to share information broadly, you demonstrate trust in your team. You show that you believe team members make their best decisions when they are given the most complete, current and accurate information possible.
When you keep the channels tight and restrictive, you demonstrate lack of trust. Note that the term is “demonstrate”. You might not intend to communicate lack of trust, but your restrictiveness has the same impact as though you did intend it. Information is power, and some leaders hoard it to maintain a hold on their team, or to maintain their own stature in the organization. Other individuals play with cards close to the vest because they worry about privileged information getting into the wrong hands.
What do you talk about?
Communication in any form takes time. What do you talk about? Do you have a plan with targets to focus energies and conversation? If you don’t have a long term plan (beyond your budgeting cycle), is your communication revolving around solving immediate problems, about fighting fires? Is your team talking about who to blame for mistakes and failures, or is it talking about solutions?
Communication can drift in the same ways that activities drift, with busyness masquerading as productivity. What is important? What are you and your team trying to build? What will change current and future results? What information will improve the business and help it grow? That’s what you and your team should be talking about.
In short, the speed of action in your business is limited by your speed of communication. The information your team needs to make sound decisions has an expiration date and time, so you’d better get the info out there promptly.
One of the first routines we recommend companies adopt to improve communication is the daily huddle. The huddle is a 15-minute stand-up meeting with a simple agenda:
- What’s up? (Good news)
- What’s your top priority for today?
- Where are you stuck? (What resources do you need)
Problems are not solved in the huddle – they are identified for further action. Look for more on huddles in a future post.
What comm channels do you use?You have so many choices now re: how you want to send and receive information. Each channel has it’s advantages and disadvantages, situations where it is more or less effective.
- Written – It has the advantage of being more permanent, and with email and text availability it can reach even large groups simultaneously. Policies are written so there is no question about situational convenience or erosion over time. Permanence is, though, one of the disadvantages of written communication. It is one way – from sender to receiver(s) – and as such does not leave room for collaboration or negotiation. Written communication feels like a pronouncement.
- Oral – History reveals a long tradition of oral communication. It’s more informal and personal than is the written form, especially when face to face. It is malleable, which is its strength and its weakness. Oral communication lends itself to noticing feedback and responding to it. A cycle between sender and receiver is completed, as opposed to an email or letter where you’re never quite sure that the message has been received. Because it is a transaction it is ephemeral; there is no record to refer to later unless it has been backed up by another method.
- Nonverbal – You communicate more than you may realize through your body language, but also by the way you handle time and timeliness in your business. You show your priorities by what functions are allocated the most space and the best accommodations. You demonstrate who the big dogs are by deciding who rates a window, door, potted plant or artwork in their work spaces.
Are you a “hub and spoke” workplace or an integrated team?As leader of your business, you have likely started as the keeper of the core information, the basic know-how of the business. As long as you are the keeper of all knowledge, your business cannot operate without you. When you delegate, do all conversations eventually go through you? If you’re the hub in a hub and spoke communication scheme, you are the limiting factor in your company’s growth. It’s through the development of new communication patterns and processes that you can integrate your team and teach it to function without you up to your elbows in it daily.
The challengeYes, communication is an integral part of your operation, your culture, and it directly impacts results. When was the last time you considered the strategic impact (time, dollars, complexity, speed) of your company’s communication?