Does your organization suffer from the classic 'wars' of us versus them management versus the workforce, maintenance versus production central office versus the branches, in general terms - silo versus silo - or do people in your organization work as one team heading in one direction? Is the focus on tackling problems or on fixing blame?
What can make the difference is the embedding of communication systems at all levels of the organization, particularly at the workforce level. Sound communication is essential for business today. Its absence can be one of the most costly errors made by management.
Whenever the output of work relies on the contribution of more than a single individual, all those involved must be able to communicate effectively. Whenever you see individuals working together successfully, you find regular two-way communication. Communication skills are essential for teamwork. While organizations may invest resources in ensuring that the financial director has all the information he or she needs to make decisions and perform the role effectively, those same organizations may invest few resources in delivering the sort of business communication and information that workers need to perform their role – yet these are the people who immediately add value to the products or services delivered by the organization. As Lynton Hayes said, when he was Executive Director, AIM, Western Australia:
The message coming from workers is loud and clear: My productivity would be higher if my supervisor and management would give me more feedback on the results of my work, listen more to my ideas and provide greater recognition for good work.
An organization’s communication systems have to be directed to all those who work in the organization and in terms that are relevant to each workgroup. For example, the performance measurement system must show the financial director how the company’s actual financial performance compares with its budgeted performance, and also show each local team how their actual performance compares with their performance targets.
When communication systems are established across the organization, particularly in the form of performance feedback, a performance culture inevitably results. Because communication brings relevant performance information to everyone, ownership, and accountability of performance targets can be transferred directly to the various teams doing the work. When teams take responsibility for their targets and get clear performance feedback on how they are doing, they are motivated to improve. A culture of performance improvement develops and grows.
Effective communication skills are therefore essential for any leadership role because leaders must communicate effectively with their team members and also with the manager to whom they themselves report. Effective leaders direct their teams’ efforts towards team goals through delegating tasks, imparting information and providing feedback, all of which require communication skills. If you can’t communicate effectively, you can’t lead. But no-one is born a good communicator; business communication skills are developed.
When change is introduced into an organization, effective communication is essential to ensure that everyone understands and accepts the change. Effective communication keeps everyone informed and involved.
Technical people in technical environments are notoriously poor communicators. Sometimes they don’t communicate at all. This becomes a significant problem for management when change is implemented at the workforce level, especially if resistance to change is supported by unions that have the capacity to win the hearts and minds of the workforce by their allegiance to the maxim that ‘he who communicates leads’. A sound communication strategy is essential to the successful implementation of a performance improvement system. The business communication strategy should address both what to communicate and how to communicate, particularly at the workforce level.
In the absence of a sound communication strategy, even the most carefully thought out and well-planned performance system will fail.
Performance-linked communication relates organizational communication to the performance needs of the organization by answering the question, ‘What needs to be communicated to the person doing the job so that targets can be achieved?’ and then building the infrastructure to ensure its delivery.
Performance-linked communication is a purposeful, ongoing and integral part of an organization’s continuous improvement system. It can be a major contributor to a sustainable competitive advantage by ensuring the continuous flow of performance information to all the people doing the work.
Performance-linked communication enables the organization’s values, vision, mission, strategic goals and targets to be felt throughout the organization, providing a unified sense of direction that has everyone singing from the same song sheet. The strategy is translated into team outputs, performance measures, targets, and action plan to ensure that what people do on a daily basis is connected to the achievement of the organization’s goals. How the team is performing in relation to outputs, performance measures and targets is monitored and fed back to the teams so that variations can be identified and corrected. Poor performance is analyzed and corrected.
Continuous performance feedback gives control to each team because it shows them how they are doing and what they need to do to improve. When management rewards and thereby reinforces strong performance, employees are motivated to perform well and performance improvement becomes anchored within all parts of the organization.
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