How do we improve communication in the workplace?

The Oxford Dictionary defines communication as “The imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium” and “The successful conveying or sharing of ideas and feelings.” Such a concise definition, yet business press is littered with stories of breakdowns in vital communications and resulting issues in today’s business.

Where do you start to look?

Many FTSE organisations state that they are passionate about their people as well as their products/services and customers’ experience. They publicise adapting to market conditions and embracing new technology, but where there are issues in productivity they rarely talk about performance based on a communications-led strategy driven by the workplace. If ‘people buy from people’, then employees should be at the heart of this strategy.

A recent study commissioned by VMA Group noted that employees in big businesses saw trust in internal communications as a key challenge. 81% of respondents stated that their CEO and Board cited communication as critically important, but the figure fell to 59% when applied across the business.

The study also looked at whether management had Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) related to communication; such as KPIs against outbound calling in a contact centre. Over half did, 7% had such KPIs set more than once a year and 43% annually. However, 23% had KPIs set less than once a year and 26% never.

This lack of effective communications and trust within the workplace, as well as between employees and customers, leaves organisations exposed to error and blame. If left unaddressed and no effective communications strategy is put in place, both employees and customers become frustrated and dissatisfied.

Look at cross-functional teams:

All organisations are built on some sort of team structure with management, departments or job functions. A simple analogy is to think of the business as a clock which should consistently perform in telling the time. It can only perform effectively and accurately if every moving part and function works together in unison. This teaming of moving parts and functions allows the clock to work and deliver its simple, yet all-consuming objective. The same is true for cross-functional teams with their roles and responsibilities; the business objectives cannot be achieved without an effective communications strategy in place.

Why is there friction?

Friction occurs through cultural behaviour and attitude, often due to a lack of collaborative discussion and effective action plans, which are ‘bought into’ across the workplace. It isn’t that each employee doesn’t want to engage and do their job to the best of their ability; it’s often that management are expected to decide and dictate objectives and, as such, the underlying teams and functions are expected to deliver without any dialogue throughout the process. Then, when something goes wrong, the typical response is to shift the blame, often onto management. The friction exists and is often obvious, but is not picked up on or simply ignored.

Resolve, create, deliver, maintain and sustain:

A most effective and proven method is to build a ‘working together’ strategy, driven by communication processes. It must be adaptable and flexible to change, and delivered across the organisation as a simple-to-use change and performance management operating system. Employees should be able to understand and follow the plans, deliver against objectives, record progress, provide feedback and results and communicate ideas. Across the entire business, representatives should meet, discuss and agree on all of these elements. Ultimately, strong workplace communications are both encouraged and practised which, in turn, deliver a more sustainable business model maintained across the organisation; meaning that employees are more trusting and loyal to stay, and customers are more likely to receive excellence in service.