by Eileen McDargh, CSP, CPAE
Read the word "productivity" and chances are you envision assembly lines, warehouses stocked with goods, even space-age machinery performing tasks at faster-than-human speed. Or if you are in corporate management, your mind recalls the U.S. production statistics when compared to foreign countries. And it's a sure bet that you have read widely on the various end-of- the-alphabet theories, quality circles, re-engineering, learning theories and other management techniques to increase productivity. These are all valid considerations when confronted with the term.
May I suggest however that the building block of productive labor-- the cornerstone that makes assembly lines flow smoothly and service teams work-- is communication. It use to be you’d hear the phrase “ stop talking and get to work.” The far better mantra is now “START talking and get to work.”
Consider the impact of poor communications: Tasks frequently have to be repeated because instructions were not clear. One department does not understand why another department needs a report and so it delays sending the requested material. A receptionist cannot explain the company's services to a guest in the lobby and the firm loses a prospective client. A manager misses an important meeting because she fails to ask her assistant to change her calendar. Senior executives lose precious hours in a meeting that becomes an exercise in egos rather than solutions...all because the dynamics of group interaction are not understood. An important memo is not read because of the length and confusing sentences. Employees spend time trying to ferret rumor from fact regarding the company's position in a troubled economy. A manager engages in doublespeak regarding possible layoffs and morale plummets for everyone.
These are but a few examples of situations that lower productivity, situations caused by either miscommunication, poor communication, or no communication. And that's a situation no one wants.
So how does a company, regardless of size, begin to improve communications for productivity? First, get a good picture of the status quo. Using either internal or external help, conduct a communications audit. The questions are straight-forward and telling:
1. The reason our company exists is to:
2. When it comes to communication, my company (department, unit, etc.) is
3. I receive most of my information from… (my immediate supervisor, the colleagues, bulletin board, the grapevine, other)
4. I could do a better job if I received the following information in the following manner:
5. I would describe the majority of our meetings as:
6. I would describe communication with my peers as:
7. I would describe communication with my manager as:
8. I would describe communication with other departments (units) as:
9. Communication would improve immediately if:
10. I would be a better communicator if I learned to:
Second, prepare a program to give staff and managers the tools they need to be good communicators. The first tool is a steady flow of information about management decisions that affect employees, the marketplace, and competitors. Without that information, an organization cannot hope to bring employees into problem-solving discussions, innovation circles or the like. Although upper management deals with such lofty and necessary concerns as strategic planning, capitalization, or international expansion, it might very well be the battlefront employee who could see solutions for day-to-day problems. But without the benefit of management's broader perspective, the solutions could fall short.
The second communication tool employees need to increase productivity is a straight-forward, clearly written sourcebook on organizational policies and procedures. Even if a company is quite small, there will be more cohesiveness if employees understand the do's,don'ts and how to's of a firm. For example, the owner of a small enterprise "just figured" his employees knew what was the vacation policy and when salaries would be reviewed. Unfortunately, without a written document, even the boss forgot his intended policy. The resultant confusion and arbitrary handling of vacations and reviews netted a disgruntled staff. And unhappy staff do NOT work to capacity.
Consider examining the material developed by The Motley Fool, a small but growing company created to educate, amuse, and enrich the individual by providing easy-to-follow, appealing, and accurate information about investing and personal finance. The spirit behind The Fool Rules! is to present policies that all employers need to communicate to their employees in a way that makes it more enjoyable for all concerned. After a profile in INC. Magazine, this small organization has been inundated with requests for its handbook. Contact The Motley Fool at FoolDocs@fool.com to order a copy of the handbook or call 888-665-3665
The third and equally important step to take in improving communication for more productive employees is to provide training in writing, listening and other communication skills.
Because we all have learned to talk and someone put a pencil in our hands and showed us how to make words with an alphabet , there is a tendency to think that we know how to communicate. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Speaking clearly, with vocabulary and message tailored to the audience, is a task mastered only through learning. Listening,without training, is a selfish trait. Learning how to listen actively, to "hear" the additional messages sent by nonverbal signals and emotions, is a priceless skill. But it must be taught. There are numerous workshops available for in- house classes as well as sessions at local colleges and universities.
Since group meetings are a highly preferred communication source, organizations may also consider training individuals to conduct meetings, brainstorming sessions and teleconferencing skills. Likewise, seminars in oral presentation skills allow all levels of managers to learn effective methods for delivering audience-oriented reports and speeches.
E-mail now offers another form of communication which can be both wonderful and terrible. In fact, I am convinced that in too many cases, the “e” stands for “error”and “escalation”. Humans send their most accurate messages vocally and visually, two components missing in e-mail. Additionally, reponses are often out of context and sent days later. Use e-mail for facts, immediate answers, simple requests. But when emotion is involved, opt for phone or face-to-face conversation.
Forgetting for a minute the statistical definition of productivity, let us re-define that term. To me productivity is the sum total of work accomplished by an employee in a given job which affects the bottom line. The work environment may be considered a lake. If miscommunication, poor communication, or non-communication hinder an employee from performing duties in a cost- efficient manner, it's a ripple felt throughout the organization. Addressing and then working to improve communication increases the chances for smoother sailing in the white water world of a global economy.
For over 20 years, Eileen McDargh, CSP, CPAE has consulted and addressed
Author of Work for a Living & Still be Free to Live, she's a frequent contributor to numerous business journals and news magazines and has appeared several times on CNN Headline News.
Visit her web site www.eileenmcdargh.com or contact her at 949-496-8640.