The mismatch between what business does and what the social sciences know has been a popular topic so far this year. Just read Switch, featured in this month’s Hot Topics and or Daniel Pink’s Drive, featured in the February LEAN COMMUNICATOR . The more we can align business and the social sciences, the better chance we have to achieve behavior change.
There’s another gap that needs closing: the differences between the communication concerns of managers versus employee communication professionals. After spending the past month with many operations and functional managers, I’ve noticed a divergence still exists, mainly in three areas.
One, managers are grappling with information overload. The volume of emails is increasing as well as the number of channels. The choices among blogs, wikis, social networking sites, and content management work sites are practically paralyzing some people.
Two, managers need more functional communication tools to help them and their employees do the work. As more workers are out of sight due to telecommuting or remote locations around the globe, some managers are puzzled as to the best ways to keep people focused, informed and involved.
Three, managers also would appreciate more contact with leaders for themselves and their employees to stay in touch. With everything changing so much and so quickly, it’s critical that everyone is up-to-date with the organization’s strategy and plans.
Effective LEAN COMMUNICATORS need to leave their desks and computers, go to the gemba and take time to talk with managers about their specific communication challenges.
Based on what I’m hearing and observing, we professional employee communicators could add value to managers and our organizations if we were more active in these three ways:
1. Ensure email is a productive communication tool rather than a time suck. People need help crafting descriptive subject lines, writing clear messages that aren’t a wall of words, checking the accuracy of their messages, providing concise directions, including an unambiguous call to action, and so forth. And that’s just dealing with the writing of the messages!
2. Integrate communication skills training into manager training. For example, managers—especially those with a technical background—could benefit from a number of tutorials, such as how to deliver bad news, how to give feedback, how to recognize employees, how to use the Microsoft Word® readability tools, how to use all the other communication tools and channels they have, how to run effective meetings, how to involve employees, how to influence employees, and on and on.
3. Support managers and leaders so they can engage more in direct, unfiltered dialogue with employees and build greater trust. Face-to- face remains a powerful way to communicate. Yet, time constraints and inadequate communication skills often get in the way, especially if no one is held accountable.
None of this is new, rocket science or brain surgery. However, I’m wondering if these actions are too counter cultural or too out of the mainstream of traditional communicators’ responsibilities.
To be fair, I do see evidence and positive results of many communication teams coaching leaders. In many cases, these leaders are becoming one of the effective and trusted communication channels in their organizations.
But we need to do a better job of adding more value, especially to those who are generating revenues or providing direct services to customers. We communication professionals need to move our focus away from creating and producing communication products. Instead, we need to counsel our colleagues better on how to make all of these tools work well for them, their employees and the organization. And we need to make sure we measure results and persevere.
Okay. Time to get off of my soapbox and return to practicing what I’m preaching….