Confusion is the enemy of every organization, so why would you want to hold the door open wide to let it in?
What’s the secret of your success?
Technology often times gets all the spotlight when it comes to examining the key components of success in your business. Having the latest and greatest can end up becoming a compulsion – the unquenchable thirst for whatever the “next big thing” happens to be. Properly leveraging tech is incredibly beneficial on many levels, and neglecting it will always be something you do at your own peril. But the reality is that technology, no matter how complex and multi-layered, can serve no other purpose than as a tool for furthering whatever you’re already doing well. In and of itself it’s completely powerless – harnessing it requires the buy-in of everyone in your organization. But it still can only enhance what you’re doing – it’s like sprinkling salt on an already well-prepared steak.
Or maybe you envision the underlying guarantee of organizational success to be nothing more nor less than money itself. It’s tempting to think that a gigantic pile of cash would be the answer to all of your problems, but the reality is that money, like technology, is merely a tool. There are plenty of examples of large corporations who had money to burn and yet somehow managed to sabotage their success by not managing their businesses well. Take away these easy responses of “technology” and “money”, and the question about the secret of your success gets a bit more challenging to answer. But wouldn’t it be fascinating to discover that the most crucial ingredient for the success of your small business or nonprofit doesn’t cost a dime?
Communication seems like a cliché, an overused buzzword that gets bantered around in corporate workshops as a tool to cheerlead the crowd. Truth be told, it’s also one of the greatest areas of deficit in many organizations. You can start off with money, invest in technology, and end up making a lot more money, but without the foundational structure of clear communication, your whole enterprise might be nothing more than a house of cards. Insufficient communication is more than just an inconvenience or a hindrance – it’s a poison that can cause even the most carefully-structured organization to come completely unraveled.
The irony of communication is that it should be easy and automatic, but that can sometimes end up being the very catalyst that causes many organizations to downplay its significance or to ignore it completely. Operating on autopilot might appear to be getting the job done, but the removal of focus from the importance of communication is a slippery slope. And it can’t be a subject that’s addressed in generalities – there are specific things to consider when it comes to deciding the proper way to share information of all types within your small business or nonprofit. Irrespective of the size of your staff, your annual operating budget, or the length of time you’ve been in business, taking the time to invest in the proper structure of communication will positively influence every other aspect of what you do.
You probably interact with multiple other people during the course of every business day. Some of that may be in person, but much is likely via phone, text, and email. The advent of video conferencing has also made its presence known in our organizations, and the takeaway is that there really isn’t a “one size fits all” that covers these different modes of interaction. Actually, you can largely fit these communication methods into just two boxes – in-person and electronic. In-person always carries with it the advantage of being able to not only engage directly with whoever you’re talking to, but to also read facial expressions and body language. Sometimes the inflection someone puts behind what they’re saying is immediately apparent in person but much less distinguishable in the electronic realm.
Another benefit of the in-person meeting is the ability to interject, or even to politely interrupt to ask a question. In electronic communication, even if it’s a Zoom call, it’s harder to engage with the kind of ease that comes face-to-face. And this speaks to one of the most overlooked aspects of communication – that it’s always two-way. If someone in a business setting is speaking with and you don’t understand what they’re saying, you owe it to them to interject and ask for further clarification. This points to a frequent issue that occurs in many organizations – someone presents information to someone else without any real engagement. The person on the receiving end might smile and nod their head, only to walk away five minutes later with absolutely no understanding of what they just heard.
There’s also a gradual degradation of understanding that can occur as something is filtered through various communication methods. From the standpoint of most interactive to least interactive, the likely flow would be in-person, video call, phone call, text or instant messaging, and email. Do you notice anything interesting about that list? What is probably the most common form of business communication – the email – is also one of the most cumbersome when it comes to interactive dialogue. An email requires the recipient to read it – and to read it in its entirety – and to respond immediately with questions if anything is unclear or if further discussion is needed. And yet, because of how ubiquitous emails are, we tend to let them pile up unread in our inbox.
It can seem a little heavy-handed, but attaching a read receipt can at least provide the sender with assurance that the recipient has actually accessed the email. The standard operating policy should be that business emails are important – if they’re being written in the context of running the business, they automatically deserve to be taken seriously. One of the most powerful approaches you can take in sending an email to a colleague is to clearly and concisely outline whatever is being discussed, and then to close the email with a CTA – call to action. The CTA doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. It can be as simple as asking the recipient to reply confirming that they understood the information being presented, but it should contain some element that conveys an expectation of a response of some kind.
The realm of training is an entirely different aspect of communication that faces its own challenges in the world of the small business and nonprofit. This can run the gamut from teaching a new staff member how to perform a job function to alerting your team about new regulations regarding where to park in the company lot. One of the worst breakdowns of this type of communication can occur when there’s not intentional effort put into ensuring that everyone who needs to know is “in the know”. Some organizations do a credible job of crafting clear instruction but completely drop the ball when it comes to disseminating to all concerned parties. “Oh, I thought you knew!” is one expression you never want to hear a staff person say. Assumptions about how well-informed your team members are can be one of those seemingly small catalysts in the unravelling of your entire operation.
And when it comes to information – what’s the shelf life? Usually, not very long. Do you have documents from three years ago that you’re still using in your organization, even when only about 75% of the information they contain is current and relevant? Or worse yet, are multiple staff consulting different iterations of the same document, each believing they have the latest and greatest? The only way teams can effectively function is when there are clear expectations put forward, and those expectations need to be built firmly on a commitment to providing up-to-date, accurate, and easily accessible information that will guarantee consistency and repeatability.
Confusion is the enemy of every organization, so why would you want to hold the door open wide to let it in? Developing, implementing, and monitoring effective communication protocols doesn’t require a huge investment in time or money, but the dividends paid by this approach will allow even the most humble organization to operate like a well-oiled machine. If you’ve never given this any serious thought, or if you’ve taken for granted that things are being communicated properly inside your small business or non-profit, it’s well worth taking a second look. Little deficiencies in this area end up being not so little. They can turn into gaping sinkholes that can drag your best efforts into a morass of wasted time that can kill both morale and productivity.
Speak well throughout every facet of your organization. People will respond in positive ways, collaboration will happen organically, and the chances of something slipping through the cracks will virtually disappear. It can be truly said that businesses that aren’t growing are in the process of dying. Similarly, the organization that fails to communicate correctly may end up discovering far too late that there’s nothing left to say.
Would you like to find out how well your organization is doing in the area of communication? If so, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 240-329-9387 to see how we can help you work smarter, not harder. In the meantime, if you would like to get a deeper perspective on the overall health of your small business or nonprofit, visit www.valorexcel.com/takeyourtemp to to download your free copy of the PDF, “Taking Your Organization’s Temperature.” Then, make sure you check our recent videos on YouTube by clicking HERE. Each episode is designed to inspire, empower, and transform you and/or your organization.