Never forget good communication
Friday, May 30, 2008/
Managerial decisions make a lot more sense if the people who will be affected by them are consulted. LOUIS COUTTS
By Louis Coutts
I forget things like my wallet, my phone, my glasses, my car keys or my lap top. But they aren’t all that important anyway. It is not as though the world is going to stop or anything so dramatic.
But I had a call from the general manager of a client company earlier in the week that reminded me that I often forget much more important things – like the basics of running a business, particularly one that has grown, as this company had in the past few years.
The guy who called me was concerned that he was failing in the communications stakes. People in different departments were complaining that decisions were being made that affected them without them knowing. He was staggered, as he believed that he went to the ends of the earth to communicate. I knew the guy, who is one of those salt-of-the-earth people. He is regarded highly by the staff. Then I realised what I had forgotten, or rather, had taken for granted.
If there was a failure in the organisation it was not the fault of this guy. He would always be doing his very best and so I was able to reassure him about that. What we know, and it is basic and should never be forgotten is, that if someone is doing their very best and there is still a breakdown in communication, it is not the fault of the individual but there is something systemically wrong within the organisation. So we dug a little deeper.
He gave me some illustrations of the problem. Decisions were made by management and passed down the line by email or correspondence and to the extent possible by way of word-of-mouth. There was a management team consisting of nine people who headed up different departments and who were on the team because of their positions.
It emerged that these people didn’t necessarily see it as their responsibility to communicate managerial decisions to staff. However, they did use email to inform the staff about what was going on. I then learnt that this guy gets 80 emails a day.
I then remembered from my days as consultant CEO in turnaround situations – my inbox would be inundated with emails. They were poorly written, abbreviated and contained useless regurgitated information. I told everyone that I didn’t read emails. If they had a problem they could call me.
The problem about emails is that a lot of people cannot touch type and after a few words, find the physical process of sending emails tedious with the result that the message rarely conveys what the author wants to convey. The end result is misinterpretation, frustration and sometimes outright hostility and breakdown in communications.
So I said to this guy, “if you have a message, don’t use email”. If it is important enough, have in place a system whereby the message can be delivered by word-of-mouth so that the people to whom the message is being delivered can see you and you can see them and everyone can ask some questions. An enormous amount of my time in running businesses involved discussions with groups of people throughout the organisations.
The next thing that I remembered was that in appointing a management team I always looked for people who I believed had the trust of people down the line, and who could communicate with them without fear of the employees suspecting that they were being misled.
Communication involves trust, and without that trust, it doesn’t matter how much you might talk, people won’t listen. So, I would have a management team of people who I believed were trusted and who could communicate openly with those for whom they were responsible. When it comes to the necessity to communicate something to the staff, you simply pass the responsibility to these people on the management team, and it is then up to them to communicate. They become accountable to management for ensuring that communication takes place.
But then I remembered the most serious thing I had forgotten. Managerial decisions make a lot more sense if the people who will be affected by them are consulted before they are made and asked for their input. The recent decision of the AFL to change the interchange rules without consulting the clubs and the footballers who would be affected by them, was always going to be a disaster.
I always found that if I had an idea, I would canvass it with the management team and then pass it down the line for feedback from the people who would be affected by the idea. Almost always, the feedback resulted in an improvement to the idea and sometimes to the idea being canned.
As the idea went through this process of communication, the chances of success improved dramatically, because those who would be affected by the decision would actually own the decision. The chances of them saying that they didn’t know what was happening would be remote as would the chances of staff sabotaging the decision (which often happens without consultation).
Good communication can be a powerful tool in getting ownership of decisions, but poor communication can result in failure. I forgot that simple factor until my friend called me earlier in the week.
Louis Coutts left law and became a successful entrepreneur. His blog examines the mistakes, follies and strokes of genius that create bigger, better businesses. Click here to find out more.
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