Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate..."

If any of your organizations do an employee survey, I'm 90% confident that the number 1 issue of dis-ease among the employees is communication. I'm also 90% confident that the survey didn't help pinpoint what it is about communication that's diseased.

When the results come back, most management says, "What do they mean 'communication'? We tell them a lot. There are no secrets. We have charts in their work areas, in the lunchroom. We send emails and put up notices in the common areas. Why do they say, 'management doesn't communicate with us'?"

The survey needs to ask about different aspects of what is or is not being communicated:

  • Frequency: for the different subjects that management shares, are the people hearing too infrequently or too often about those issues?
  • Timeliness: how close to when the information is known is it shared? How appropriate is the lag from their perspective?
  • Content: Are the important issues being shared that let them know how well the organization is doing? Is enough being shared so that they wouldn't be surprised to hear that the organization is doing really well or poorly? What portions of the mission statement, vision, strategy and values are discussed and actual examples of living or implementing them are given in the communications?
  • Presentation and Venues: What methods are the most desired for sharing the different types of information: big boards of numbers, charts, meetings, email, newsletter, etc.? How varied are the venues that allow for private or public questions, comments and reflection? 
  • Accuracy, Omissions and Trustworthiness: How credible and complete is the shared information from their perspective? What understanding is there about the accuracy of the source of the information?
  • Comprehension: How well have people been educated to understand the information? How understandable is the information for the non-experts in the organization?
These are a few questions any survey should seek to answer. If you talk to people, they'll give you the answers that aren't clear from the usual survey. They'll tell you, "I'm not happy with the communication with this company because....I don't understand what's being said...or we're not told quickly enough in order to do something about it...or..." It's not enough to counter with "we told you at such-and-such in such-and-so material." As the old saying goes, "If you want to hide information, put it in the employee handbook." Just because it's out there, don't assume that it's been seen, read and understood.

In your organization, don't let their be a failure to communicate (memorable line from the movie "Cool Hand Luke"). 

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