Is Poor Communication Damaging Your Organization’s Health?
“Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life” (Brian Tracy).
Have you ever worked with someone who seemed to speak an alien language that you just could not understand? In my role, I often meet with both senior managers and frontline staff, and poor communication tends to be at the top of their frustration lists:
- People on the same teams forgetting to tell one another about an important change
- Managers failing to remember to tell their teams about a certain process change
- Senior leaders making assumptions that their fellow executive colleagues are “on the same page”
Sound familiar? It can make us want to say, “Calgon, take me away!”
If you are not sure whether your organization is in communication chaos, here are some ways to gauge whether your communication execution is negatively impacting organizational health:
Some people take deep sighs when they hear the word “survey,” but this tool is effective if you have a process in place to use the data and places inside the survey for comments to gauge employee sentiment. The key is to listen with the intent to act. By doing so, organizations can quickly uncover where communication loopholes exist.
Focus groups are one of my favorite ways not only to uncover communication woes but also to work with employees to come up with solutions. As with surveys, there is a process and an art to conducting successful focus groups. Once you strike the right balance, the results that flow from this source of employee feedback are priceless.
Even though stay interviews have been around a while, there are few organizations that use them. This tool requires that a representative meet with current employees to learn why they stay. It is a great way to gauge whether communication is derailing the organization’s progress.
There is much controversy over whether exit interviews are a useful source of authentic employee feedback. While using exit interviews as one of the main sources of employee sentiment has some clear shortcomings, they are a great way to gauge sentiment at the end of an employee’s journey with an organization. I think of them as a snapshot of the employee experience.
If you’ve determined that communication is damaging your organization’s health, here are some ways to cure the chaos.
Letting the Data Talk
If you have used any of these gauging tools, then you have data that can tell a story. Are you listening to that story?
I have found that data speaks loudly about what issues are the most irritating for employees. Use that data to help drive your next steps. If the dreaded communication gap exists, use employees’ feedback to improve it!
Speaking the Same Language
People either love or hate assessments. I have found them quite useful in understanding the lenses from which others see the world and how to communicate with them most effectively.
A while ago, I became a certified DISC coach and trainer. Doing so was less about having another feather in my cap but more about having tools to share with my clients about communication styles. I often find that most workplace communication issues stem from a lack of understanding.
I have been an assessment taker all my life, because I believe that the more I know about my own behaviors and communication quirks, the more I can uncover others’ as well. The more I know about others, the easier it is to speak the same language. This common language is how true communication can take place.
Being on the Same Page
I hear frequently in my focus group work that employees don’t feel informed about what is happening in their organization. They often complain that process changes that affect their job functions are not communicated to everyone involved. This lack of communication breaks down trust.
One way to cure this problem is to make sure everyone is on the same page. Many years ago, I worked at a company that instituted a change board. Every department lead would show up to the weekly change board meeting to discuss any changes that might have affected more than one department. They used a template to decide whether they needed to bring a change to that board and to help them articulate the reason for the change and uncover which other departments were affected. Many appreciated that this communication venue was a fast way to communicate changes and that it resulted in very few communication oversights. The meeting could be as short at five minutes or as long as one hour, but everyone left on the same page.
The End Result
If you suspect that your organization’s health is suffering from poor communication, you and your organization will benefit from understanding the tools available to gauge employee sentiment and then using that data to determine next steps. Make sure that your teams are speaking the same language and are privy to the same information.
Once your organization commits to taking some of these steps, your employees will begin to trust again. Trust creates healthier relationships, increased engagement and increased retention.
Don’t leave your organization’s health to chance. Cheers to eradicating the communication chaos!
Heather R. Younger, J.D., is the best-selling author of The 7 Intuitive Laws of Employee Loyalty” and founder of Customer Fanatix, an organizational development firm whose mission is to inspire leaders to use their employees’ voices to create more loyalty and engagement. She accomplishes this mission through corporate workshops, executive coaching, personalized consulting and speaking engagements. You can contact Heather at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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