What is the secret to department efficiency and happy employees? The answer is always firmly rooted in effective two-way communication. But if the answer is so simple, then why is communication such a hot topic among departments and most organizations for that matter?
Looking at the issue from a high level, the failure to communicate the mission, goals, expectations, and the rules and procedures means employees are left to guess what is important to the community and their team.
On the other hand, employees are left frustrated when they cannot relay ideas or concerns to the Chief’s Office. After all, staff at the end of the spear usually know best if the mission can be accomplished, if they have the resources necessary, and they often have innovative and effective methods that can be employed to get the job done.
So what stands in the way of good two-way communication and how can you improve it?
1. Clarify the Vision
A poorly constructed mission, vision, goal statement. These statements need to make sense to everyone in the organization, and need to be easily read and remembered. They should tell department staff and the whole community:
- Exactly what you’re doing and why
- How you will accomplish it
- How success is measured
Once constructed it should be taught to all members and incorporated into the very fabric of the department. In order to align incentives, adherence to the principals should be demonstrated when considering promotion or assignment within the department.
2. Remove Gatekeepers
Second, it’s important to ensure that information flows in both directions throughout the department. Too often, information fails to flow in an organization due to individuals’ who act as “gatekeepers” of information; deciding for themselves what’s important or not important to pass on. Determining who these people are and correcting that is imperative for the communication health of a department.
Gatekeepers are people in positions that receive information and filter what communications go through based on their own biases
3. Avoid the “Telephone Game”
How can that be done? Departments should have a method for spot checking the flow of information. The best practice is for the sender of the message (if using a command structure that relies on supervisors providing the information down to their various teams) to actually seek out the end recipients of the message to ensure it reached them and that the message is understood.
Most of us can relate to the old “telephone game” and realize that a message can have an entirely different meaning and importance attached to it once it leaves your mouth. Spot-checking allows you to avoid these pitfalls and ensures communication channels are flowing properly.
4. Encourage Open Communication
Information flowing from the employee side of the organization needs to have a significant weight attributed to it. In other words, it needs to be clear to everyone (especially supervisors and middle managers) that the information is needed, expected and supported. Also, staff need to understand the importance of making sure the information reaches the top levels of the organization, and ensuring an acknowledgement of receipt is returned to the employees.
Let’s Change the Culture
Many departments effectively use communications tools to stream line and document the flow of information within an organization; from the age old suggestion box to the use of modern email systems. However, the most effective leaders reach out personally to staff to receive information and ensure their message has been delivered. The use of committees or work group meetings, where staff can communicate directly with the head of the organization without fear of punishment or reprisal, is another effective communication tool.
When communications within an organization go wrong, you can expect that information will stop flowing from staff to organizational leaders and vice versa. As a result, the mission and goal statement will begin to lose its focus and by this point employee morale will be greatly affected. Evidence of this will come in the form of increased employee complaints, and an increase in work place arbitration. Even more, organizations will find that when they do receive communications about issues from staff, that will come too late to avoid real damage to the organization or it’s individuals.
However, if you apply the four rules covered in this article, you can be guaranteed to avoid these pitfalls and ensure a healthy and efficient work environment. Some of these rules may just seem like common sense, but you would be surprised at how many departments fail to adhere to them.