Clark's Corner: Communication is Critical

Communication is Critical

Communication in the workplace is a key differentiator of successful businesses. The employees can’t help if they don’t know what’s supposed to happen.

Clarks-cornerWhether in your marriage or your business, communicating clearly is a necessity for success. “I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to date other people” seems like a clear case of a failure to communicate in most marriages. Communication in the workplace is a key differentiator of successful businesses. The employees can’t help if they don’t know what’s supposed to happen.

Improve the Conversation

Improve the conversation with your co-workers and job satisfaction, retention and business results will also improve. Keeping the good employees is a great goal. And good employees want to help. Everyone is flattered to be included in “the plan.” Make sure your staff gets the word about your company goals and business philosophy. Also, work time goes faster for everyone if you’re engaged and feel like part of the process. Several methods to improve communication are really easy to implement. The best ones are, of course, harder.

New Hires

Write down the history of your company. Explain who started it, when it was begun and why your product or service is better than the other guys’. Be clear about your main business focus today. Applicants should know what your business does, who owns it and what it is you’re selling before the first interview.

Here’s a communications tip about interviewing for any position: ask all the applicants the same set of questions. Ask other questions that flow from your original ones, but asking a standard set of questions makes choosing the winner much easier. Consistent communication before and during the interview process helps identify the best people.

So imagine that your written shop resume ends with: “Our purpose every day is to work together as a team, each understanding their roles and to deliver the best customer service and undetectable collision repairs in North East Broken Stump.” This fluffy mission statement-like sentence actually has some value – if not to your job applicants, then to your customer.

Why You’re the Best

While Mr. and Mrs. Smith wait for your estimator/closer to complete the damage analysis on their vehicle, they’ll be looking around your office. Communicate with them, too. Make big, easy-to-read signs that say exactly why your shop is their best choice. Include that mission statement from above. People recognize that big companies create and live by their statements of purpose or core corporate goals or vision statements, and you’ll sound like the big guys if you have a feel-good sentence or two on your walls.

Your sales folks will presumably communicate all the great reasons your shop is the best choice. Reinforce that by having your strengths clearly printed on attractive signs. And print a few more copies of the company history you wrote for the job applicants and show them to Mr. and Mrs. Smith, too. They’re interested in your history because they might leave their expensive car with you for repair.

Bulletin Board

One thing that worked well in my business and has since in many others is super simple: hang up a bulletin board. Hang it by the time clock or the employee entry door or the restrooms, somewhere where everyone will pass it frequently. Among the informative items on my bulletin board were the official company vacation calendar, birthday wishes to everyone on their birthday and their employment anniversaries: “Don’t forget to wish Jim a happy birthday today and congratulate Susan on 10 years with the company!”

List the immediate, short-term goal(s) so everyone can help achieve them. For example, one thing on my bulletin board was a list of our target accounts – those folks who our salespeople had identified as customers we wanted and were actively calling on. When one of those shops finally phoned us, we all knew that it was important, and whatever they wanted flew out the door when we hung up the phone. Sadly, I can tell many stories of fellow jobbers whose counterpeople didn’t know that a call from “Ed’s Body Shop” was important, had already taken weeks of sales calls to accomplish and figured that tomorrow’s afternoon delivery route was soon enough for some body shop they had never heard of. Communicate your specific business’s sales goals to the employees – they’ll be a much bigger help once they know the objectives.

Use the board to promote upcoming clinics or trade events – anything you want your co-workers to know – plus lots of social stuff. Ours had baby shower and hospital stay notices, invites to parties and thank-you notes from spouses. Really quickly, people learn to read the board. Here’s the biggest problem: someone has to change and update it. If yours still has the invite to the gala 2015 Christmas party on it, no one has read it in a long time. One clever incentive I saw employed was the owner who put a note on their store’s cork board in a not-obvious place and just every so often that said, “Bring this note to me for a 10-dollar bill.” His people all read that board edge-to-edge regularly.

All-Employee Meetings

Now for the more difficult communication advice. I’m convinced that the single best thing you can do to improve communication in your own workplace is to hold a meeting with all employees at the same time. This means it has to be before or after working hours. From years of experience, I know holding it during work time will ensure that the one person who needs the communication the most will leave the meeting to answer a phone call.

Let the employees choose before or after work and even suggest the best day of the week for the meeting. I would like you to love this team-building device so much you’ll have one every quarter – but I’d be happy if you held one, once. If it goes like I expect, you’ll clearly see the value in having another one. I believe the meeting should be mandatory and you should pay everyone overtime to attend.

Talk about the big business goals; don’t use this time for individual employee issues like tardiness or poor performance. Have less rather than more agenda items. Have a firm timeline; start and end at exactly the time you set. Including company sales goals works great if you break them down so everyone can understand. For example, a $2 million business wants a 6 percent sales increase this year. Rather than saying just that at the meeting and hoping everyone pitches in, break it down to smaller numbers. A 6 percent increase is an additional $120,000 in sales or $10,000 a month or $2,325 a week or $465 per day or $58 per hour. Now, everyone can see how they might help sell another $58 worth in the next hour.

Communication Content

I don’t know what your company goals or competitive concerns are, but I do know talking clearly to your employees and co-workers about them will increase your chances of success. Repeated human resources studies show that employees in every business would be more willing to help if they knew what a win looked like. Tell them what your firm’s win would include. Tell them all the same thing, at the same time, and they’ll try to help.

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