Saturday, July 21, 2012

The craft of connecting

Effective communication is among the top five characteristics needed by teams and leaders to succeed in a complex working environment

Between 2000 and 2004, companies with most effective communication programs returned 57 percent more to their shareholders than companies with the least effective communication programs, as per the findings of Watson Wyatt’s 2005/2006 Communication ROI Study. Good communication is among the top five characteristics needed by teams and leaders to succeed in a complex working environment. A key factor that emerges from studies of successful managers is that they have a regular and meaningful communication process with their staff. They connect! Let’s look at how this meaningful connection is established.
Crafting the connection
It is essential to clearly establish objective of the communication, timeframe for it and how and when it is to be done. Every conversation you have, every communication you make in the work context takes you a step closer to a goal. So it is important you craft each one of the communications with care.
Firstly, promise something only if you can follow through with it. Also, avoid any gaps in understanding – it is a good idea to clearly communicate your understanding and get agreement on it. Equally important is to maintain consistency in communicating a message, whether within your team or across groups. Gone are the days when it was possible to develop tailor-made communications for different groups. In today's networked society, where information spreads fast through blogs, social networks and other kinds of speedy media, every group can become aware of the communications to other groups.
Base your decisions on visible and logical factors. People want to know why they are being asked to do or not to do specific things. Such knowledge not only helps them execute their tasks more effectively but also helps them accept the instructions and decisions more willingly. Even adverse decisions like a retrenchment can be made acceptable if employees understand their rationale.
Try changing the questions you ask. Instead of asking “Why are we falling short of this month’s sales goal?” ask “What do you think we can do to ensure we meet our sales goal?” In the first case you make the listener feel defensive, and in the second case he/she will feel involved in the solution (versus being accused of the problem) and will be receptive to brainstorming alternatives.
It is of utmost importance that you select communication methods appropriate for a particular target audience. For instance for communicating with an employee in another location you may want to use e-mail, instant messaging, intranets, social media and other web tools. There are some very interesting possibilities in the new-age communication tools. While company intranets can serve as central hubs of information about the organization for employees, teams can hold brainstorming sessions or maintain ongoing conversations with questions and answers on a blog.
You can even use wikis to manage projects, share best practices and research case studies. The CEO can keep a blog or a podcast and companies can use RSS feeds to send regular news to employees. If an organization plans to use new-age communication tools, then it is important to effectively implement them and provide necessary training and support in the use of the same. This will ensure that employees experience higher levels of communication satisfaction.
Connecting effectively by knowing your audience
An important step in connecting to people is being aware of who you are connecting with and what essential information they need. For instance, while working with the executive level (board of directors, executive staff, your direct manager), you need to take hierarchy into consideration, depending on the culture at your workplace. Also, you need to focus on business and ROI. On the other hand, while communicating with your team, consultants or vendors, you need to explain the technical background, outline and explain requests, justify outcomes and specify clear instructions and conditions for the satisfaction of requests.
When communicating with peers or other functional groups, you should be clear and concise. You need to make sure that you answer questions, like ‘when, where, why, and why not. And finally, while communicating with external customers, you should be politically correct, aware of revenue impact and conscious of issues related to security and breach of contract.
Internal communication best practices
If you want internal communication to succeed, it is essential that communication be ‘two way’ i.e., employees should not only receive communication, but always have a chance, and be encouraged to ask questions, discuss and express their ideas. Asking for feedback identifies problem areas where messages are misunderstood or not received at all.
Very often good news is given, bad news is withheld. Be it feedback on individual poor performance or difficulties the company is facing, if they are not shared and discussed with the employees an important opportunity to build trust and to improve performance is lost. So don’t just share the good news, but also share bad news if any.
Feedback mechanisms and sharing best practices internally should be an integral part of organizational performance and individual performance management system. Provide regular, on-going opportunities for employees to provide feedback to management. The opportunities can be provided through employee surveys, suggestion boxes, town hall meetings, individual or small group meeting with managers, and an organizational culture that supports open, two-way communication.
It is also crucial that you measure improvements in your performance and not just communication since you are ultimately using communication to achieve your work goals. Have there been changes in the way your team communicate with customers? Are you getting closer to your customers? Is employee retention improving? Is information being communicated throughout your department on a timely basis? You need to seek answers for these questions on a time-to-time basis.
Be it giving work instructions, aligning individual goals to company goals, inspiring team members or understanding team needs, effective communication, without a doubt, forms a key factor in making these connections successful.

The author is Founder of The HR Practice

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