As I mentioned in last week’s article – communication is hard. Unclear communication obviously leads to misunderstandings. Unfortunately, it can also lead to hurt feelings, confusion, mistrust, and a loss of productivity.
Two major communication pitfalls include:
- The barriers to effective communication.
- The components that make up an effective communication system.
Last week I dove into the many ways that communication can break down due to internal and external barriers. You can think of this as the quality of the conversations that are happening. In this article we’ll look at structures that can be put into place to improve communication. This can be thought of as the quantity of communication occurring.
On a weekly basis I hear leaders and employees complain about the lack of communication in their company. This is almost always referring to internal communications between staff. Often this is not because of a lack of commitment to quality, intentional conversations. Rather, it’s because everyone is so busy, making it difficult to remember, or take the time to have those conversations. Once you are in a place where quality conversations are taking place, it’s equally important to establish conduits for regular and effective communication.
Each business needs to decide who needs to know what information. That will be different for every single company based on the size, sensitivity of the information, culture, and more. This article couldn’t possibly explore all of the different scenarios for communication systems. Instead, I’m going to share some best practices that apply to most organizations.
Direct Report Meetings
On a regular basis, every staff person in a company should have conversations with the person they report to. This should be dedicated time where the supervisor listens, coaches, gives instruction, provides direction, and develops the relationship.
Frequency varies based on the employee’s role, their experience, and their personal need for support. This is not a one-size-fits-all. I have had staff in similar positions, but very different meeting frequency. Some staff have a high need to process ideas or receive positive affirmations. Others like to be given marching orders and check-in when they come to a challenge.
Regular, Effective Staff Meetings
Most people hate staff meetings. This is usually because they are ineffective and a waste of time. Yet, this can be such an efficient tool for communication and driving work. If your staff meetings are a source of dread and frustration (or if you just want to make them the best use of time possible), check out this article.
I want to be clear, a staff meeting should NOT be a time where everyone sits around and tells what they are working on. That isn’t what I mean by communication. Rather, all staff meetings should include a well structured agenda with components designed to provide appropriate communication.
Including this component in all meetings ensures that important messages and decisions are shared with the appropriate people. This practice can save a great deal of staff time. By using it consistently, you may reduce the number of people who need to attend each meeting.
Dedicate a few minutes at the end of each meeting to determine what needs to be shared beyond the meeting attendees and who will deliver those messages. If necessary you can create a follow-up on those action steps in the next week’s agenda.
State of the Company
On a regular basis, company leaders should communicate to the whole organization about how business is going. A minimum of once a year is acceptable, quarterly is better. The entire staff team should know the current priorities and the progress being made. This is also a great opportunity to celebrate, recognize, educate, and build relationships.
A Two Way Street
Quality communication includes gathering feedback from employees. While this can be built into Direct Report meetings and Staff Meetings, it’s a good practice to collect anonymous input as well. This is the best way to learn what staff are really thinking. Hopefully it goes without saying, feedback should not be collected if leadership is not going to address any concerns revealed. Collecting input and ignoring it is worse than not collecting it at all.
Again, the above practices might not all apply to your company. But when it comes to communication, I always recommend implementing more, rather than less. You can always eliminate practices that are not effective or change things up down the road.
While I’m on the subject of communication, I want to share a few practices for controlling email communication. Anyone who has email knows that it can completely consume your time and mental energy if you let it. The average employee spends just over 3 hours a day on email, and about two thirds of them are irrelevant! Multiply that by the number of employees in a business, and most leaders will be pretty motivated to make sure that the time spent on email is effective and efficient.
Critical conversations should not take place over email. Nor should sensitive information or important messages. Email is best for relaying facts, setting-up logistics, or sending out mass communications, like newsletters. A rule might be something like “Any email over 3 sentences needs to be switched to a live conversation.”
Leadership is responsible for creating an expectation for how email is used throughout a company. Telling people how to use email might seem petty. However, without established expectations, people will create their own norms.
Consider using a coding system for all internal emails. For example, the subject line might start with URGENT, THIS WEEK, FYI, or NO RUSH – letting the reader know how quickly they need to review the materials. With everyone using a similar system staff are better able to prioritize their time.
Email Best Practices
Here are a few more ideas on how to corral the email beast:
- Train staff to be very selective when using cc:, bcc:, and reply all.
- Discourage the drive towards a zero-inbox.
- Provide staff with training on the lesser-known tools your email system provides. Things like automations, templates, folders, tags, etc. can save time and reduce busy work.
Once communications systems are put in place, it’s important to monitor them. Otherwise, well thought out systems can deteriorate into annoying tasks. The intentionality of the structures put in place needs to be held high and team members need to be reminded of the purpose behind the process.
Any business with more than a few people can improve their operations by focusing on communication. Quality communication involves clearly relaying messages back and forth. Creating systems for the appropriate quantity of conversations ensures the necessary communication has a platform. I believe any company that focuses on communication quality and quantity, will go far.
Need help with creating a communication structure that works for your company? Email me at email@example.com to schedule a free 30-minute discovery call to find opportunities for growth through improving communications.
Kim is a mom, wife, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of small businesses and nonprofits.