Monday, December 17, 2007

Business the Communication Breakdown

By Sean Anderson


My girlfriend's work recently hosted a Christmas party. During the festivities everyone was asked to stand up and introduce themselves and explain what they do for the company. It turned out that most people could not adequately describe what they do or even give a job title. I was struck by the fact that the only people who had a clear idea of what to do everyday were the warehouse men.

The only other two people that could give an adequate description were the accounts payable and accounts receivable clerks and even they said, " I take care of Accounts Payable and some other stuff." I was amazed, then I realized that the same type of communication breakdown occurred at my job only within each department. Communication can be a considerable problem in any company despite the size.

There are tons of tools to address communication barriers. You can implement instant messaging, e-mail and voice note systems, holding daily weekly & monthly meetings, develop a mail room, and so on. The key question is how do you know which tool best suits a communication problem? To answer this managers first need to recognize the communication problem, and then address the issues the problem is causing.

The recognition of a communication problem isn't rocket science. Typically, almost every employee knows about the communication problem. The difficulty is admitting that a problem exists and then taking committed action to get the problem fixed. The best way to discover a problem is to simply discuss job functions. Then put a questionnaire together with question like, is this person overstretched, are managers effectively communicating tasks to subordinates, do employees have a defined purpose and goal when they come to work. Review the questionnaires and have a meeting to discuss the results and possible solutions. Then make a commitment to corrective actions, and implement the solutions immediately. Managers must then follow up on the changes and take ownership to open constructive lines of communication.

Address the issue that communication gaps are causing. I will cover four major inefficiencies caused by communication breakdowns. They are gaps between responsibilities, redundancy of tasks, loss of information and infighting.

Gaps between responsibilities often originate from turnover. Unfortunately, turnover results for more responsibilities for current workers, which can in turn result in more turnover. This can become a vicious cycle. If turnover is resulting rapidly take steps to reward employees and more importantly assure them of their importance. Do not lose sight of your team and fail to communicate with them. To eliminate the problem of communication gaps cross train employees. That way at least one other employee knows the job of another, and the value of information they can receive from their peers. Also, implement a training trainer system. Where an employee becomes trained and then trains another employee even if it is a supervisor. This solidifies job duties and creates awareness across positions.

Another problem created by poor communication is redundancy of tasks. This is basically when two employees are creating the same output but are often distributing it to different parties. The suggestions for closing gaps apply here as well, but a better control is to sustain an information flow chart. Then analyze the flowchart using bins to see where information is flowing, where it is going, and classify information based on use using specific criteria. The main idea is to keep everything organized. This is kind of similar to a computer defragmenting the hard drive. Condensing a moving information flow in a way that best optimizes the system.

Loss of information is another problem. This is through loose controls and the solution amounts almost solely to organization. This simply amounts to a lecture about being organized, so we can move on. The other reason is turnover, which we have already discussed.

I saved the humor for last. For some reason people really grow attached to their information. Today the inf oration people create is their job. They have often developed the process and method for communicating the information, and they don't want anybody to drop their data I mean baby. I often see trainers over emphasize a process in order to ensure this integrity. This often bogs down the information and delays the communication process. The best way to handle this is to develop checkpoints to verify communication is accurate and expedient. Focus should be placed on verifying checkpoints, and that way unnecessary precautions will be avoided. It will also keep everybody on good terms. No arguments will be created by the transfer of communication.

Well communication is a vital part of every company. Monitoring it can result in lower costs, better cooperation and greater efficiency. Communication is the information flow that is the life-line of business.

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