Have you ever wondered why, when people keep saying that we live in 'an age of communication', we continue to have so many problems communicating effectively in the workplace?
Managers, supervisors and employees alike repeatedly say that they never get enough information - that no-one ever tells them anything - or that they are always the last to find out when changes that affect them are happening in the organization.
A key factor that emerges from studies of successful managers is that they have a regular and meaningful communication process with their staff.
But we already have a company bulletin to tell everyone what is happening
Many companies have internal newsletters, newspapers or company bulletins but these written communications can not be an adequate substitute for managers communicating directly with employees. This is especially because written communication is all one-way. Developing two-way communication can involve management presentations, meetings, consultative committees, discussion groups, attitude surveys or training needs analyses.
Making a start
One way for you to start to improve your communication is to assess your communication skills. The skills supporting good communication include knowing what medium to use (small group meetings, one-to-one discussions, meetings of all employees, etc.), what information to communicate, how to assess the climate for communication, what obstacles there are likely to be and much more.
Maybe I need some training?
While training can help, it is not the whole answer nor should it be the first step. It is also important that you:
- plan for what is to be communicated, how and when it is to be done;
- evaluate what has been done before so that you can build on past successes (and avoid past pitfalls);
- monitor your communication strategy to ensure it meets your objectives; and
- are flexible and adapt your approach in the light of experience.
Making it work
There is no fail-safe prescription to improve communication and give guaranteed results, but here are some principles that will give your communication strategy a much greater chance of success:
Establish the need for each communication
The reasons for the communication, what you are going to communicate and what you expect to gain from it must be clearly understood.
Develop the skills and awareness
Invest time and effort to improve your skills even if you consider that they are already good.
Make it understandable
Make sure the information being communicated is clear to everyone. Communication efforts often fail because those presenting information do not make it relevant to the people for whom the information is intended.
Make sure it is two-way
One-way communication fails because those delivering the message do not always know whether it has been received or understood.
It may be a truism that management can never communicate enough, but communication efforts are often ineffective because managers give a message only once and assume it is understood.
Try different methods and styles
Different people absorb information in different ways, so it is necessary to present information in different ways. The approaches may include: spoken, written, in small groups, individually or using pictures and diagrams.
Monitor the effectiveness
Make sure that the messages you are communicating are getting through by including in your strategy an assessment of effectiveness.
Maintain the effort
A communication strategy that starts with a blaze of glory but soon lapses because of a lack of follow-up can do enormous damage to the credibility of future efforts.
If properly planned and delivered, communication will ensure that everyone understands what your goals are, what their part in achieving them is and what they can do to make sure that the goals are achieved. The time lost through lack of direction and misunderstandings will be dramatically reduced.
Simon Osborne is a Melbourne-based consultant. He is Director of Practical Workplace Strategies and helps organisations develop leadership skills, manage the process of change and link the skill development of people to business strategy, including through management and executive coaching. He can be contacted on +61 3 9809 4521 and by email on firstname.lastname@example.org .
For help with assessing your organization's communication practices, check out Simon Osborne's Communication Assessment Survey pack. Complete with customizable survey form and Consultant Guide, his pack covers every aspect of your survey initiative. Visit the Communication Assessment Survey information portal to download the free survey analysis worksheet and start using this comprehensive survey pack today.