I needed some bath taps recently, but my quest soon ground to a halt and I fear that poor internal communications might have been to blame. (You’ll have to bear with me on this one… I promise there’s an internal comms lesson in here!)
So, I found some taps very close to what I wanted on a national plumbing supplier’s website. But I had a simple question that needed an answer before I could take the plunge and buy. So I phoned up and the sales rep called the tap manufacturer to try to get the answer, but it was Friday afternoon and he concluded the customer service team had all gone home. He advised me to email my question via their website and his team would look into it.
I duly submitted my question and waited for the answer to come. And waited. And waited. Days turned to weeks. Radio silence.
Now, as far as I know, that company probably has a fairly straightforward mission. It really only exists for one purpose, and that’s surely to sell as much stuff as possible. It got me thinking about how something has gone badly wrong with this firm’s mission.
Cogs in the chain
Let’s think about a few of the cogs in the process leading to making a sale. The product buyers went out and did a good job, sourcing a product that’s pretty much what I want. The marketing and website people have equally excelled themselves, making sure I found my way to their site when I did a Google search and was able to easily browse around and find what I wanted.
All those cogs were whirring away in the company’s machine to get us to this crucial point. But then, it all fell apart. That final cog in the process, the sales and customer relations department, lost sight of the mission. Assuming that my message reached them, there’s only one conclusion: they prioritised something else other than helping me buy these taps, which, as we’ve already established, is pretty much the whole raison d’etre of the company. What is it, I wonder, that’s been occupying them all this time? What could be so important that it overrides the entire company mission? Staff meetings, training on using the new photocopier, moving offices?
Herein lies the absolute essence of internal communications: to make sure that everyone up, down and across the organisation knows exactly what you’re all collectively there to achieve, and the part they must play to make it happen. And, crucially, giving people a way to raise any issues preventing them from playing their part, so that they can be resolved.
Let’s think of this company (or your company) as a car for a moment. The main purpose of a car is to go places, to take its inhabitants to where they want to be. Each component must play its part to the best of its ability and no single component can do it on its own.
Take the engine, for example. It knows that its role is to provide the power that will ultimately turn the wheels as effectively and efficiently as possible. We’ll say that the engine represents the product buyers at the plumbing supplier. Let’s not forget that the engine’s only able to do its job well because of components like the fuel and starter motor (the HR, finance and IT teams, for example).
So, we’ve got power. The clutch and gearbox know that their role is to harness that power and send it to the wheels. Let’s say they’re the website and marketing teams. Great. All that power has been transferred to the wheels (the sales/customer relations team). It’s the moment when the mission becomes a reality – we can go places. Imagine that instead of taking all that hard work and effort and using it to fulfil the final mission, the wheels come off. Every other component in the car has done its job but without the wheels none of it matters.
Something clearly went wrong with internal communications to and within the sales team about what the company’s mission is and their critical part in it. You may rightly point out that perhaps the problem isn’t directly about their communications – perhaps their processes are poor or they’re understaffed.
But these are signs that the mission has gone out the window. If the sales team’s managers were clear on their mission, the cogs within their team that are critical to the sales process would get prioritised. The cog that channels sales enquiries from the website would feed seamlessly to the ‘answering questions and communicating with customers’ cog. Decision-makers in the company would make sure there are enough staff and other resources to enable the sales team to complete their mission.
I read today on the Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC) website that “the United Kingdom would be up to £50 billion a year better off if organisations made a greater effort to communicate with their employees”. I think my experience with the plumbing supplier illustrates the point. I wanted to hit ‘buy’ and they effectively said ‘bye’.
It can be hard sometimes to explain to a non-believer at the head of a company why really good internal communications can make all the difference to their bottom line. My tap quest unexpectedly illustrated why it’s mission critical to ensure that everyone in your organisation knows exactly what your mission is and how their cog contributes to making it happen. Quite simply, it empowers them to see how they can get their cog working as well as it can.
If you do nothing else with your employee communications, then do that. It’s a huge step towards helping people focus for themselves on what’s important and cut out what isn’t.
If you find you have some mission leak in your organisation and would like a chat about how it could be plugged, I’ll be very happy to fit in a chat around my ongoing tap quest!