How much of the communication that happens in your business really gets the message across, and how much is noise? That’s the big question that we’re going to try and help answer here.
Proper communication practice is essential in business. It saves time, it helps you solve problems better, it makes employees more engaged, it even helps you win and keep customers. But it’s a big, multi-faceted topic, so let’s break it down into a few questions, and the answers you should have ready for those questions.
Is everyone communicating?
This is the big one. There might be some roles in the business you think don’t have as much to contribute as others. However, if you’re not taking the time to check in on them, you could miss some valuable insight.
Keeping an eye on employee performance is only one reason you should do it. It can help you highlight problems in the business operations from the individual’s perspective or bring to light new solutions from a viewpoint you haven’t considered.
Mostly, people like to be included in the business they’re in nine times out of ten. It shows you’re willing to spend some time prioritizing the individual, which they will appreciate and respect. Make sure this practice is learned by all of your managing staff.
Are people on message?
Another reason to ensure that you’re communicating with individual employees individually is to make sure that they’re actually behind what the business is trying to achieve. You might think that it’s important for them to just worry about what lies in their own role, but the truth is that aligning their work with your goals will always result in better engagement.
Rather than just doing work because they know they have to do it, the context of the collaborative objectives of their work can help motivate them. It makes them realize they’re not just a sole worker but part of a team that’s trying to achieve something better. Set clear goals and let employees know how they’re linked to the wider company goals.
Do people keep asking the same questions?
The first time you hear a question, it demands an answer. The second time, it’s understandable. The third time you hear that same question, it’s starting to waste your time. New employees will need reassurance, but they should be able to find those answers by themselves. But only if they have a means to access them.
This is the process of creating sticky knowledge within the business. It might include the roles and responsibilities and point of contact for individuals. But it should include wider community practices and resources.
Many businesses will print this sticky knowledge out for new employees. However, hosting it online can make it a lot easier to amend with new goals and new knowledge. It’s crucial you make the sticky knowledge easy to read and easy to sift through, as well. If it takes an employee longer to find the information they need than it would to simply ask and receive an answer, you’re doing it wrong.
Are meetings mindless?
The team meeting can be a valuable use of time to quickly get everyone caught up on the most important developments in the business as well as to find and address problems collaboratively. Unfortunately, in a lot of businesses, they become a morning slog that your employees will hate and get very little from. If you want to run your meetings well, you need to make sure they have a purpose from the get-go.
The meeting should have actionable conclusions and, most importantly, they should have a set ending time. If you want to get employees more engaged in a meeting, then get them prepared for them as well. Ask them beforehand if there’s a point they want to bring up or a problem needing a solution. Get them to name the challenges of any point you’re bringing. Most importantly, make sure that responsibility is assigned for the solutions that come out of a meeting.
Do you spend all day in your inbox?
Sorting out your emails might not be quite as much of a mindless banality as a bad meeting, but it is a time-sink. Keeping on top of emails is important, but it shouldn’t interrupt you all the time at work.
Set periods in the morning, afternoon, and the end of the day to work through your inbox and leave it. But what if people still need you? That’s what the next point is about.
Are you slowed down by single channel communication?
To deal with emails that still need an answer, you should learn how to prioritize them. For instance, set up a public-facing account and an internal account. But email shouldn’t be the only way employees reach out to find you. There are times to use email and times to use other methods.
If it’s a problem that needs a solution quickly, then a face-to-face or a phone call is much better. If you’re discussing a process or a question that’s not quite urgent but requires back-and-forth communication, then keep it to chat clients like Google Hangouts. Keep multiple channels of communication open for different purposes. For instance, emails aren’t good for back-and-forth. Similarly, face-to-face and online chats aren’t good for sharing information that needs to be repeatedly referenced.
Do people get sent in circles?
Even worse than not finding the right way to communicate is not finding the right person to communicate with. If you have multiple people who deal in customer service or you have a business that has several different teams or locations, then getting sent in circles until the right person is found can be infuriating. It’s not enough to know the direction to point people in.
A business phone system can ensure that people can easily get directed based on the nature of inquiry they have. It saves a lot of time internally, but it also increases customer satisfaction. How many times can you think about when terrible customer service caused you to cast a business in a worse light? That will happen to you if you don’t organize a better internal redirection system.
Is distraction a serious problem?
Prioritizing communication is just as important. There are different levels of urgency and importance to different requests. But without distinction, any request can distract an employee from the task they’re currently involved in when they might have better been left to it.
Using an internal color code to highlight the importance of requests, whether it’s through email or through internal support software, can ensure that employees are only being interrupted and distracted when it’s necessary or when they can spare the time (if it’s less necessary).
Are you open to employee ideas?
Helping employees communicate is just one step in fostering an environment where sharing knowledge is widely practiced. You have to make it clear that you and your managers are open to ideas. One way of doing that is leading by example.
A company newsletter can be a great way to share interesting ideas that aren’t quite important enough to feature in a team meeting, and they can be used to ask employees to contribute to them, as well. You should give them opportunities to come back with more knowledge, too. You probably can’t attend every industry event and conference yourself, so give the job to some of your employees and ask them to come back with some ideas.
Do you know how to communicate to the market?
Internal communication is essential, but you have to switch to a different track when you’re looking outside the business. The best way to do that is to better develop and understand your brand. You can create a brand guide that ensures you avoid using jargon in promotional material, memorize a voice for the business, and keep in mind the specifics of the audience you’re communicating with.
Do you know how to listen?
Communicating with that target market isn’t just about making sure you’re understood. When it comes to the individual, it’s about making sure you understand, as well. If you’re in a rush to try and sell a client on your services, you might not really be listening to them. Leading the conversation and convincing them of the value of your business is one thing, but if they’re not contributing, or you’re not listening to their contributions, you’re not learning anything that could help you close the lead or improve the business.
Ask more leading questions. Get to know the specifics of their situation. Don’t immediately shoot down needs that your services don’t care to; try to think flexibly about them instead. Don’t diminish the importance of their needs in any way.
If you can answer all of the questions above in the positively, then your business communicates better than 99% of the others in the market. Communication is an on-going process and thus needs on-going fixes and examinations. It’s worth it, however, as every problem you solve wins you more time, more customers, and a happier, more engaged workplace.