Time and time again "communication" features in the top three organisational issues. In todayís world we have a vast array of fast, efficient communication tools available to us but, more often than not, this simply results in information overload. So how do we focus our efforts in order to improve communication?
The crux of the matter is to consider what needs to be communicated, then to address the method, timing and frequency. The decision on what needs to be communicated usually comes from the top and can be accompanied by a fancy presentation with impressive graphs rolling across the screen then fading away into the distance. Alternatively, there is the company newsletter, which is launched with great enthusiasm and goes out with a whimper.
The key is to consider the needs of the audience. This may sound obvious but itís truly amazing how often we forget this in the rush of our day-to-day activities. I know of a very communicative manager who held regular briefings with her assistant each morning, kept her informed of what was happening at all times and who was crestfallen at appraisal when her assistant fed back that she wanted her manager to communicate more. In reality the assistant wanted better communication not necessarily more. So donít assume. Ask.
Having asked what they need to know, ask why this information is useful to them so you can gain an understanding of how this helps them plan and conduct their work. Now I appreciate that sometimes there is information staff would dearly like to know but which is truly confidential or inappropriate to deliver at the time so itís not always possible to deliver everything they request but knowing which information is important to them and why will help you to focus on what you can deliver.
Beware of Office Politics
So far so good. It all sounds relatively simple and straightforward but then we encounter Office Politics.
The "Information is Power" syndrome does huge amounts of damage to communication flows within companies. A managerís role is to obtain the best performance from his or her team. Sabotaging them or othersí teams by withholding information is not clever.
The next step is to ask how and when they would like the information delivered. This will vary enormously and it may be useful to take into account how people assimilate information.
We remember 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we see and hear, 80% of what we say and 90% of what we say and do.
On this basis, face-to-face communication would appear to be the most effective vehicle, although a follow-up email summarising the key points would be helpful.
Donít forget to take into account the timing of these sessions, too. This is particularly important if you have telesales and/or customer service staff. Sometimes telephone cover is limited and staff will find it difficult to concentrate if they are being assessed against productivity targets. Build in some spare capacity for these communication forums. They really will reap the rewards of making the staff more effective.
Ask, Observe and Listen
Having delivered the information your staff have requested in the appropriate format, check that you have truly met their requirements. Ask, observe and listen. If they canít look you in the eye and say "yes" convincingly, donít accept that as sufficient, sigh with relief and make your escape. Does their body language match with what theyíre saying? Remember that improving the quality of the information you are imparting is just the very first step to improving communications. If they feel unable to respond with genuine feedback at this stage, there is much confidence building to be done before you can move forward.
"Didnít I make myself clear?"
Anyone who has been in any kind of professional or personal relationship knows that the minute you move from being solo to having someone else to communicate with, misunderstandings occur. Itís not easy. We ask ourselves, "Didnít I make myself clear?", "Is it me? Am I speaking a different language from everybody else?" If communications between two people can be fraught, is it any wonder that we struggle with communications in an organisation when we factor in the staff numbers involved? So be kind to yourself. It isnít as straightforward as it may sound but if you keep asking and delivering to those requirements, you will have made enormous progress.