We should all recognize the importance of good communication, but how good are we at executing and employing basic communication principles as managers? If any of your employees come into a performance review unsure of what is going to happen, then you should know you are not doing as well as you could. So how can you maximize departmental communication?
Are You Using Quality Communication?
However great you think your message is, if you can’t easily get it across to a 9-year-old, you’re probably not going to get that point across very well to anyone who doesn’t speak your language on an everyday basis. That’s not saying the people you work or do business with are on a mental or experiential par with the average nine-year-old, of course.
We have discussed a number of times how with quality communication, things get done. Your policies and procedures — whether you use MS-Word, Adobe Pro, XBRL, a document management system, a picture book, or plain old text — must be clear and concise.
Every form of communication in your office, for whatever reason or however critical to your company’s mission, MUST be straightforward and clean in order to be great quality communication. Get your message across in a way that leaves no room for confusion, misunderstanding, or error. Make sure the message is worth saying AND make sure everyone in your audience understands it.
Keep in mind that business documents, news stories, blog posts, tweets, etc., are generated at alarming speeds. In fact, the speed of communication has become the main driver of communication. Thoroughness, accuracy, and attention to detail may suffer significantly because of this factor.
This may not mean much to the casual tweeter or blogger but to business, reduced quality of communication can be toxic. Deadlines are important — second-place finishers don’t usually get championship rings — but so is quality. First-place finishers can have their trophies taken away. So, as a business leader — think about your policy, procedure, email, or other document you’re about to issue. Isn’t it worth the extra few minutes to get it done right?
Tips to Maximize Departmental Communication
Many would say that meetings are a necessary evil in the business world. Meetings, however, are the most common and most critical way information is communicated in a department. It is the role of the department leader to ensure that meetings do not drag on forever and that they are conducted in a practical and productive way. Like many aspects of business, you can’t just hope good things happen by accident. You have to create a clear plan and find ways to measure how well you are executing the plan.
One of the most important jobs of a manager is to ensure lines of communication are open between you and your team. A good manager creates and then continually modifies and updates the plan for communicating through meetings. The meeting plan should be two-pronged: staff meetings and individual or project team meetings.
Avoid the Dreaded Staff Meeting
Long, overly-drawn out staff meetings where everything everyone is working on is gone over in detail aren’t necessarily beneficial. People sit for a 1« to 2 hours hearing about things they are not involved with just so they can contribute their 10-15 minutes worth. If you are wasting an hour of time for six people every week with this type of meeting; you are costing your department 39 man-days every year.
As the department manager it is your job to figure out how to productively execute meetings. Of course you need to have regular meetings with the whole staff, but is that the proper forum for extensive status reviews? Instead of wasting the group’s time, for staff meetings stick to the topics that affects everyone. If you want to keep everyone apprised of activity status, then keep it to a brief overview.
Meet Regularly with Individuals and Teams
Besides staff meetings, you should regularly meet with individuals and with project team members to discuss status, progress, and problems. Now is the time for detailed reports and discussions. Here is the opportunity to ensure priorities are established, decisions are made and clearly communicated, and schedules/milestones are set, reviewed, and changed. Your team members should leave these regular meetings with little doubt of how pleased or disappointed you are in their performance.
The role of these meetings is to provide the various levels of direction, mentoring, and coaching your team members may need. Let’s be honest; regular one-on-one reviews and status reports in comparison with established objectives and milestones are an important tool to keep performance and projects on-track and prevent them from ever going awry.
It’s Up to You
It is the manager’s job to keep the lines of communication open. The manager should schedule regular meetings as well as communicate agendas and expectations. It is also the manager’s job to ensure the meetings happen, and that they start and end on schedule. It can be very frustrating and a waste of time for a team member to prepare for a scheduled meeting that never happens. Plus, employee’s can feel uncomfortable if they are placed in the role of pestering the manager to conduct the scheduled meeting.
In so many ways, the department leader sets the tone with their behavior. This is certainly true with meetings. If the department manager is always late, is forgetful, or otherwise ignores the importance of meetings, then the staff will assume the same attitude.
It is also the department manager’s responsibility to keep meeting records, including dates, attendees, and minutes. The meeting minutes should be shared with all involved parties, especially important decisions and assigned action items. This is a positive aid in ensuring that what happened in the meeting is documented and communicated.
Meeting minutes can also serve as important records for compliance purposes. For example, they could serve as design review or vendor reviews that meet ISO 9001 record requirements. As part of the manager’s meeting plan, there should be a plan (and basic format) for how meeting minutes should appear, where and how they are stored, and what record requirement they meet.
How Are You Doing?
As with all plans and objectives, the only way to know how well you are doing is to regularly measure and compare them to the plan. For meetings, objectives could revolve around length, agendas, and carrying them out according to the schedule. If you are not doing well in keeping your meeting plan on track, then there could be a direct relationship between this and other issues with performance in the department.
Find a positive way to make meetings work for you and your department. Then your low performing team member will not be surprised by the poor review (and perhaps the poor review will even be prevented), and you won’t be surprised by a resignation letter of a top performer because they are frustrated and dissatisfied.