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Better Communications

Dear Dave
Do you have suggestions for improving internal communications? We recently conducted an employee opinion survey and got very low marks on questions related to how well we keep people informed. With a total staff of 58, all located in a single office, we are not that large that getting information out to people should be a big deal. My two partners and myself are in agreement about being fairly open with information. While we don’t share specific details of company financial performance, salaries or other private personnel type issues, pretty much everything else is fair game for discussion. Employees have always been encouraged to feel free to seek out any principal with their questions or comments.

Dear GF
Not knowing the specifics of your particular situation, I can offer a few general suggestions that can be applied to all firms.

Good communication begins with top-down organizational planning to provide every member of your staff with a clear vision of your firm and the personal context to understand it. Good communication ends with a commitment to the concept that permeates everything the firm does—all of the time. It is more about creating an open environment of inclusion and informed participation than about the individual tools, procedures and activities you might develop to help you communicate. If you don’t have a message, of what importance is the method of conveyance?

Everyone at your firm should be able to answer the following types of questions. Who are we and what are we trying to do? Where will our firm be two years from now? Five years from now? What are the major goals and initiatives we will be working toward this year? How well did we do against last year’s objectives? How are we doing against the current year’s objectives? How does the company plan relate to me personally as an individual? Given my job position at the firm, what things can I do to best ensure that both the firm and myself meet our overall plans? Is my behavior and current performance on track, or do I need to make some adjustments?

With the organization well defined and understood, frequent updates are in order. Staff meetings, e-mails, newsletters and informal social gatherings can all be used to keep the channels open. If you have supervisors and department managers, communication prowess should be an important part of their overall personal performance evaluations. Provide feedback continuously. Turn communications into a family affair. Consider inviting spouses and significant others to join in and attend a couple of company progress briefings each year.

Communication is a two-way flow of information. Find ways to engage people. Follow an open door policy, but don’t sit back and rely on people to come to you. You must go to them. Actively practice Management By Walking Around (MBWA). By developing the habit of wondering around the office and dropping by to visit people in their work areas you will become much more accessible. Chances are your staff will be more inclined to open up than if they have to seek you out in your office. Along the same lines, bring your lunch to the office several times each month and eat in the staff lunchroom. If you have an enclosed office, find a secondary workspace out in the open and spend some time each week working there.

The best opportunities to improve communication are often casual. Bumping into people at the coffee pot, traveling to a jobsite or client’s office, or sharing a ride on the elevator can present you with the opportunity to open a dialog. Ask them how things are going. Learn to become a good listener and don’t jump to conclusions. Pay close attention to how something is said as much as to what is said or not said.

Wahby and Associates