Last weekend, I was chatting to a friend about his work. The conversation came around to internal communications (OK, I admit I’m always fascinated to hear employees’ experiences in different organisations), and unfortunately it sounded like his company had quite a few of the signs that communications aren’t quite what they should be.
So, I decided to share 5 symptoms of poor internal communication in an organisation – see if you recognise any of these in your workplace.
But first, back to my friend Ady…
“So do you get a newsletter or something at work then, Ady, or how do you find out what’s going on in your company?” I asked him.
“We get nothing,” he said, somewhat glumly. “My company never tells you what’s going on.”
He told me about arriving into work one morning to find a new employee on the factory floor. Despite Ady being a relatively senior member of his team, no one had told him a new apprentice was starting.
“It’s the same when people leave,” he went on. “One day you come in and they’re not there. You ask around and you finally find out they left but nobody thinks to let other people know.”
It doesn’t exactly make Ady feel like a trusted member of the company – someone in the know, clued up and abreast of all the facts he needs to do the best job he possibly can. He is, in fact, doing his very best while the company keeps him on crutches.
If I got chatting to someone in your organisation one evening over a glass of wine, what would they say about the way you communicate with them? If you want to get a sense of how your organisation measures up, here are five signs that things aren’t what they should be in the employee comms department.
1. Your staff find out more about what’s happening in your organisation from the local paper than they do from you
So, you’ve launched a new product or service, picked up a big contract or won an award. Great! You waste no time in getting that press release out there… what a great opportunity to raise your profile. Then, one of your employees is down the pub on Saturday night and a mate says:
“I see your place got a big contract the other day, Harry. You’ll be keeping busy!”
Harry has no idea what his friend’s talking about. That’s because you forgot to tell your most important group of people first: your staff. It might be fantastic news, but for Harry some of the shine has gone off it by hearing about it second hand. Maybe he feels a bit stupid that his mates knew before he did. Maybe he starts to worry because he doesn’t know what impact it’ll have on him. Whatever the case, it’s unlikely to have him bouncing into work raring to go on Monday morning.
2. Your staff aren’t too positive about you in the pub
Like Ady, who didn’t paint a very positive picture of his company when we were chatting over a glass of wine, if your staff don’t feel informed about what’s happening in your organisation, they’re unable to be good ambassadors for you. Your employees have the potential to be one of your best sources of good publicity – people who help shape opinion about your company in their community. Word of mouth, and all that.
Imagine you’ve had a bad headline after a complaint against your organisation. If you inform your staff and give them the facts, they’ll be able to sit on the bar stool and tell the real story.
“Yes, it’s true that the company was in court, but here’s what really happened…”
Gold dust. Don’t miss out on it.
3. Your staff don’t know what your organisation’s trying to achieve
If you asked 10 members of staff how well the organisation did last year against its goals, what would they say? If they tell you they don’t know what the organisation’s goals are let alone how you collectively did in delivering on them, you have a huge disconnect between the top of your organisation and the people on the front line.
Why does it matter whether your staff know? Let’s pretend you’re selling the same products as a lot of other people, at roughly the same price. You’ve concluded that giving amazing service is your main strategy to win customers over to you. If you help your staff understand that your mission is to offer widgets with service that knocks customers’ socks off, then they’ll know how critical it is to make sure every customer has a great experience. You won’t find them stacking shelves when there’s a long queue at the tills.
4. Staff have been doing things the same way for years – yet there must be more efficient ways
If you tell people to do a very specific job and don’t share the bigger picture, it’s very difficult for them to bring any innovation to the table. You might have a very clear vision for where you want the company to get to, but do the staff know? Your vision might be to be the best pie restaurant in your town by the middle of next year, and you might feel your staff are constantly pulling against you by increasing the range of sausage rolls instead.
No manager has all the answers and if you don’t ask your staff, you’ll never harness their experience, knowledge and skills. You go to all the trouble of recruiting the best people, the thoroughbreds, and you pay top dollar. But then you stop them from running to their full potential because they’re starved – of information.
Let’s pretend you want to get a certain task done, like moving from one corner of a room to the one diagonally opposite. You think you know the best route, and you shuffle your staff round the walls, step by step, micromanaging and issuing specific instructions. Finally, you reach your destination. It’s taken several days, but you’re happy. You celebrate and congratulate your staff. They look at each other puzzled.
“But if that’s what you wanted, why didn’t you just say? I’ve done this before and I know a quicker way, straight through the centre of the room.”
Your staff are frustrated because they’re kept in the dark and their skills aren’t used to their fullest. They’re not being as productive as they could be because you’re not sharing the bigger picture.
5. Your staff turnover is very high
OK, there can be lots of reasons for people leaving and some industries are more prone to it than others. But check that poor communication isn’t playing a role. One of the reasons why the world’s most successful companies invest in internal communication is they understand the role it plays in retaining their best people. And they want to do that because recruiting and training people costs money and decreases productivity. You want to get people to the point of working at their full potential and then keep them there.
Who wouldn’t want to work in an organisation where you really understand what the firm’s trying to achieve, you know your part in it, you know how the firm’s doing and what you can do to keep things going in the right direction. When there are changes coming, you know about them and how they’ll affect you, and you have the chance to talk to managers and leaders in the organisation about the things that matter. A place where people don’t work in silos but ferociously share experience and best practice around the organisation, rather than duplicating effort. Wow! Who’d leave a place like that? Is that your workplace?
In conclusion, these are just a few of the symptoms of poor internal communication, and many of the things that go wrong in organisations can be traced back to it. Of course, there are lots of factors at play in the workplace and they can all affect the golden ideal of ‘engaged’ workforce – things like reward, recognition, development opportunities and management style. Internal communication may be just one of those factors, but it’s a hugely important one.