BY BRETT TYSONEditor’s note: This is the first installment in a series of articles exploring effective ways of improving communication within your company.
I have been a student of organizational development within the industry for many years and through my consulting company, TDC Training Specialists. I have seen one consistent truth: As company management strives to achieve its desired goals, the organizational DNA is more often the cause of their failure or success. The problem comes when the business is not capable of meeting those desired goals.
Where do we start? Let’s begin with people because without people, a company is just a bunch of chairs, cubicles, and cars. People are the organization; people build the organization.
I have always searched for the optimal working environment because I believe that something truly special happens when employees are given the opportunity to work in an ideal environment: They unfold into highly creative, motivated, and excited contributors to the organization’s goals.
So, let’s talk about building up people and, in the process, building your organization so that it can do what it is intended do. What you will get is a workforce that partners with you to meet your desired goals and shares in the success of the business.
Philosophy and Mission Statement
The first element of this plan is non-negotiable: The philosophy and mission statement underlies all the subsequent structures and mechanisms that comprise it. The reason that it is non-negotiable is because as we build our organization, and we have established that includes building up our people, our focus is going to need to be on those people.
What is this philosophy or mission statement?
Here’s an example:
“To assist employees in managing the communication mechanisms, communication challenges, and communication conflicts in a manner that promotes continued engagement and enables the employee to present their best work.”
This mission statement requires complete buy-in from the top in order for it to work. If you believe in it and commit to living it throughout your organization, you will empower your team to present their best work. We do this by establishing and assisting them in managing the communication mechanisms, communication challenges, communication conflicts, and by constantly keeping our finger on the pulse of the employees’ engagement levels to ensure that they have the ability to do their best.
The first of these concepts is communication mechanisms, which is an essential element in all organizations. The reason we call them mechanisms is because they are not neutral and have a significant impact on employees, so they will need to be built very specifically if you are going to adhere to your mission statement. Every business has communication mechanisms, and yours influence the company in a very direct way. As you start to consider the different ways that you communicate with your employees, other managers, and your organization as a whole, you see that there are just as many ways that your organization communicates with itself.
We have become a society that relies more and more on our cellphones, not only for personal calls, texts, email, etc., but also to do business. What can happen with this technological advancement is that managers often hear about problems in real time, and, in turn, have instant access to the people who are responsible for, as well as those who manage, the problem. That means we are often talking to employees about issues before they have had time to even fully understand the issue themselves. Incident management can be a very stressful scenario for everyone concerned but, if managed appropriately, can be highly effective and productive.
We also use email extensively; have one-on-one, department, manager, operations, and companywide meetings; and we walk around and talk to people. It is a good exercise to write down each of the communication mechanisms that you use on a daily or weekly basis.
If you find that you are doing a lot of reactive communication (i.e., you’re constantly taking time from your day to address existing issues), it could be a sign that the people comprising your organization are constantly under stress, which could be an indicator of lowered work performance. I am a strong proponent of having structured meetings with individuals as well as groups. I try very hard to hold information and questions until these forums, as it is a more controlled and neutral setting—but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have to discuss hot issues in the moment. We all know that we do, but the more you try to use your mechanisms, the more you will see their use through the experiences of your employees.
Our goal with building effective communication mechanisms is to enable our organization to communicate in a highly productive manner in ways that always maintain the employee and group engagement. None that we have discussed are inappropriate, but each needs to be well-structured and used at the appropriate time.
Now let’s look at the communication challenges that exist in your organization—namely, the specific ways in which we don’t successfully communicate our message. For example, it could be a manager who is using the incorrect communication mechanism to address a particular issue, the lack of a productive and predictable agenda for the operations meeting, or how a manager speaks to an employee in front of her peers.
There are, in fact, countless examples of communication challenges and each organization has its own. This list needs to be built using strong representation from all your departments, and the goal should be to build a comprehensive one completely itemizing the challenges that impact employees in a counterproductive manner. The group should then explore what they think would be better ways to make communication more productive in the organization. This exercise is best facilitated by someone in a neutral capacity so that you can establish a safe environment in order to elicit more truthful responses. Managers are often concerned with what employees are going to say, but they shouldn’t be. If you are going to engage in this exercise, its purpose is creating the philosophy and mission that we discussed earlier, not assigning blame.
Remember, always use your mission statement as your guide.
Now that we have begun to build our communication mechanisms, established our communication challenges, and started to establish better ways to communicate within our mechanisms, we need to look at conflict.
No matter how effectively you use communication mechanisms or how well you have resolved your communication challenges, there will always be conflict because we are human beings, and frustrating misunderstandings or disagreements exist in every part of our lives.
My company has established a very effective tool to help managers and employees resolve conflict in their everyday work lives: The CALM model, which is designed so that managers can use it with employees, and an employee can use it with a peer or supervisor. Its effectiveness works in all directions, which is important because we need to get feedback from our employees and not just give it in order for our philosophy and mission statement to work.
This segment involves highly interactive training in order to succeed. The next article in this series will lay out a detailed training program so that you can establish and prepare your employees and especially your managers to most effectively utilize this model within your organization.
The final piece of the model is to establish strong engagement and maintain it with a fierce protectiveness. Engagement is a huge topic that can be difficult to wrap your head around. We have established some core engagement criteria and have developed a model that you will be able to use to create a designer engagement program within your organization. Although this will be discussed in a later article, I’ll introduce it with a brief overview.
To begin a process like this, you would create a committee to identify four main elements:
1. Establish goals for engaging with employees
2. Identify the processes for attaining these goals
3. Sort all the processes into established mechanisms
4. Design or redesign each mechanism
For example, here are some ideas for “establish goals for engaging with employees”:
• Employees can express their concerns
• We share information fully and effectively with employees
• There is a focus on building company loyalty and commitment
• We promote accountability for everyone
• We promote team building
• We reward and recognize employee contributions (big and small)
At this point, once you have built out each of these topics, you will be left with a robust program that will lead to good conflict management in your organization, guide the development of your established mechanisms, and move you past your communication challenges.
Assembling and following this program will result in an organization that is capable of managing so much more, is nimble, and knows how to succeed. Any problem can now be thrown at the organization, and it will just absorb it and move forward.
Many owners and senior leaders are afraid to redirect their attention from their organization because they do not trust that they will manage without their constant eye. The type of organization that we have talked about in this article is self-reliant and operates at the highest level. [CD0516]
Brett Tyson is the founder of TDC Training Specialists. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.