Thursday, April 2, 2009

Communicate better

Focus more on sharing information and listening, and improve your bottom line. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. That's right, I'm talking about frequent, actual human face to face interaction.

I've seen inside plenty of companies - and it seems too often they are full of frustrated and inefficient employees. Employees don't know the direction of the company, unsure which of their efforts matter, or if their efforts matter at all .... eventually they lose their passion.

Communicating is a hard task. Often, leaders don't know fully how each role contributes to the business - or they haven't established goals or the business direction simply changes. Not communicating is often the easier route to take. "We are all (too) busy," "its complicated," or "it doesn't matter for them to do their job," I hear. In other situations leaders think they already communicate enough (they gave everyone 2009 sales goals for god sake) or they just think doing anything more is uncomfortable and necessary.

Well, ugh. It isn't enough. And if its uncomfortable to communicate then you are doing it wrong (do it more often and get better at it). Think of a truly healthy personal relationship and how much talking and sharing of information happens. We agree with our spouses about where to watch money, when we should arrive home on important days, or what to bring to dinner. Our babysitters aren't just told to keep the kids alive, but when its best to feed them and put them to bed. A lot of communication happens in healthy and successful relationships.

What got me thinking about communication woes, is what I've heard called HR's 'necessary evils' - Job Descriptions, Goal Setting, Performance Reviews. We do Orientations and Trainings. These are all just ways to improve communication. To increase, rather force, the chances that essential information is shared.

I think smaller companies don't think the 'necessary evils' apply to them. "We don't need Job Descriptions, our folks have to do everything. Performance Reviews? blah - we give feedback all the time." So folks end up not knowing exactly what's important, how their work connects to the work of others, what they focus on that is good and what is bad. Communication FAIL.

Enter the necessary evils. The often not-so-exciting forms that attempt to stand in for a missing human interaction. It's no wonder these forms and processes aren't liked - they weren't meant to be the sole or primary communication method. They should support, and reference, other communication. It's something along the lines of saying you the city bus doesn't offer the acceleration and enhanced suspension of the high performance BMW you'd prefer to be riding in. Well something like that....

Communication is essential, and it doesn't happen enough - so processes and tools (like Job Descriptions and Reviews) help increase basic info sharing. If it forces information sharing then it is better than nothing. The bus isn't great but it at least allows you to get uptown, to keep with my silly metaphor.

So CEO's, haters of HR, and disgruntled employees - make communication better and make it happen more often before complaining about the tools of HR. Or embrace and appreciate the ride.

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