Awhile back, we started a blog a month on the most common problems in organizations as seen on our clients’ internal assessments. The internal assessment is designed to analyze the issues that employees and the executive team list as those that keep the organization from running optimally, i.e., the problems. Then they prioritize those issues to determine the essential few to work on in the coming year.
This month’s common issue: communication. Whether it is poor communication, a lack of communication, misunderstood communication…communication shows up in one form or another on just about every internal assessment we conduct. Clearly, communication is a problem. And our clients are not alone. Here are some statistics we dug up:
- David Grossman reported in “The Cost of Poor Communications” that a survey of 400 companies with 100,000 employees each cited an average loss per company of $62.4 million per year because of inadequate communication to and between employees.
- Debra Hamilton wrote in “Top Ten Email Blunders that Cost Companies Money,” that miscommunication cost companies of around 100 employees an average of $420,000 per year.
- According to research firm CRICO Strategies, communication problems contributed to 7,149 cases (30 percent) of 23,000 medical malpractice claims filed between 2009 and 2013, which included 1,744 deaths and upwards of 1.7 billion in hospital costs.
- Finally, ITcortex.com, states on their site that 57% of project failures are due to breakdowns in communication
How do you know if your organization is suffering from communication issues? Here are a few common symptoms of miscommunication: increases in turnover and absenteeism, poor customer service, failed projects or change initiatives, a higher incidence of injuries, and a lower rate of shareholder return.
Clearly, miscommunication is a common problem and an expensive one. So, how do you fix it? Here are 10 steps you can take to heal the poor communication woes your organization may suffer from:
- Communicate your vision and mission clearly to your employees, asking questions to make sure the information was received and understood. Then make absolutely certain that your executive team’s work and words do not conflict with the vision/mission.
- Maintain consistency in communication and repeat the particularly important communications many times in many ways. In other words, don’t use email one month, the office white board the next and an internal newsletter in month 3 to announce important information. Be consistent in what you use so folks know where to look, and consider using more than one method to communicate the really important tidbits.
- Which leads right into step 3 – use multiple channels to communicate. You are trying to reach employees in different generations who themselves use multiple channels. E-mail, intranets, internal newsletters, town hall meetings, and online communication tools like Trello or Slack will each speak more clearly to different audiences within your staff. Make sure you use a variety of channels to reach all of your staff effectively, and allow your recipients to choose the communication channel that works best for them.
- Throughout your communications, ask for feedback and make sure to respond to it. If warranted, make changes that are needed to keep communications effective, valuable and relevant. One caveat, if you aren’t willing to change what you are doing, don’t ask for feedback…which should probably be a topic for another blog!
- Spill it all out and spell it all out. Don’t hold back information that your staff needs to move forward, and don’t keep important information carefully locked in department silos. Also don’t assume that because it is clear to you, it should be clear to everyone. Spell it out so that the communication is understood.
- Make your internal knowledge easily accessible to your staff. Policies and procedures should not be hidden in the catacombs of the executive offices, but in a central office or on an intranet or dropbox site accessible by all the staff.
- Provide opportunities for your employees to get to know each other better. Events, whether work related or purely for fun, foster better relationships between employees which in turn build stronger communication. As employees get to know each other better, they have an opportunity to build the trust and camaraderie that is needed to quickly repair and rebound when a communication failure happens.
- Remember one of the basics of communication skills taught long before our era of digital communications – body language. If your words say “You are important and I want you to have this information”, but your body language says “I am bored, don’t feel you are important to the organization and this is a colossal waste of my time”, the employee won’t hear a word you say or, if he does, won’t trust it or you.
- Get some baseline data. Ask your employees how well you are communicating now and the methods they prefer for receiving important communications. Don’t forget to ask for feedback, and be willing to implement the suggestions. Repeat your survey as you make changes so that you can track your progress and continue to make improvements.
- Finally, and perhaps the most important, LISTEN. I heard a great quote just the other day. Apply the 80/20 rule to communication – spend 80% of your time listening and 20% talking.
There it is, the top 10 of organizational communication. Questions, comments or feedback? We would love to hear your thoughts. Email us to join the conversation. To check out the other internal assessment issues we have covered, read Policy and Procedure Definition and Development, and 4 Keys to a Successful Training.