Would you list effective communication as the most important tool in your organizations’ tool box?

What’s in most organizations’ quality tool boxes? Ask a quality manager and they will cite you a host of examples, such as:

  • Affinity diagrams
  • The balanced scorecard
  • Control charts
  • Ishikawa, or fishbone, diagrams
  • Flowcharts
  • Regression analysis
  • Workflow diagrams
  • House of Quality

If you ask 100 quality managers, “Which tool is most important?”, you’re liable to get considerably more than 100 answers. A sizable percentage will probably say, “It depends”, and if you were to limit the discussion to quality tools like the ones above, that might be true. How many quality managers do you suppose would cite effective communication or “the ability to communicate” as the single most important tool?

effective communicationAre You Using Effective Communication?

Think about it. When projects don’t work, everyone has his or her theories and opinions, most of them outwardly directed. “They did this”, or “they didn’t do that”, or “somebody dropped the ball.”

However, if they all got together to conduct a root cause analysis, they might come to the realization that theirs was a collective failure. Maybe they didn’t speak up, and maybe they spoke too much. They definitely didn’t listen — 98% of effective communicating is listening.

They didn’t take the time to verify that everyone understood everyone else, that they were all in agreement, and that the project couldn’t go forward if they weren’t. Effective communication is an integral part of any project’s fabric. Of all the tools you could use to plan, develop, test, and implement a project, communication is the one tool you have to have in your toolbox, and you don’t want to keep it in the box. You have to have it out, and you have to be using it constantly. Other tools have their place in a project but communication’s place is every place and every moment.

When projects work, it is because communication is effective, and communication is effective when it is in continuous use. Communication is unlike any other business tool — it won’t wear out with use. It only gets better! And, by communicating effectively — and continuously — you will find your projects will get better, too.

It’s easy to “correct” these breakdowns. Discuss your employees’ lack of time management skills. Return the shipment of paper. Refund the customer’s money. Easy, right? But that doesn’t solve the problem. Those are simple corrections. Corrective actions—or digging to find the root cause of problems and then correcting them—are the right avenue.. But then you have to actually communicate the results to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Effective Communication Example

Knowing your customer, or donor, in the Nonprofit world, helps executives set communication strategy, just as knowing the customer does in the for-profit world. Former Lutheran Hour Ministries chief executive Greg Lewis sought opportunities for increasing the organization’s donor base by better understanding their demographics and motivations, and then communicating to their interests.

As lay leader of LHM, the global outreach and fundraising organization of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Greg connected with a “strategic communications” firm that specialized in Nonprofit strategies and message development. The firm analyzed donor data to identify donors with more giving potential.

The agency identified donors in the data with potential to increase giving, grouped them demographically, and then interviewed some to develop donor personas. Ultimately, Greg arrived at a set of communication principles.

  1. For example. Greg learned that while 78% of donors were Lutheran, the other 22% were more mission driven than affinity driven. The non-Lutheran group was primarily interested in mission-oriented information, such as education and health programs.
  2. Demographic analysis also revealed that some wealthy donors were making regular, though small contributions, and represented an untapped well of giving.

With a better understanding of its donors, the Lutheran Hour Ministries crafted a communication strategy reinforcing donor’s knowledge that their generosity was making an impact.

It’s all about communication, both internally to your employees, and externally to your customers and suppliers. Your system should reflect that.