Communication is the key to improving just about any business.

My new client work starts with a meeting with management. I want to understand the perceived problems and desired goals. Generally I will be told about some part of the business that is not performing as well management thinks it should. There’s a sense that things should be better and could be better. Attempts to fix the problem have failed. I typically propose spending some time observing the business after which I will meet and discuss a “betterment” plan.

Too often I learn in my time spent getting to know the business and talent that communication slows or breaks down at a critical point in the process flow.

In English, that means that people often get stuck because they don’t know what to do. When they hit that wall, some will seek guidance, some will not. Those who do will often remain mired down waiting for instruction. Sometimes they will feel shame for ‘bothering’ to ask.

That’s why many won’t seek direction when they get stuck. That’s a serious problem. That leads to unhappy customers or friction between employees.

The answer to improving communication probably isn’t what you think.

I recommend meetings. Wait, don’t go. Meetings, properly planned are a huge asset to productivity. Planning is the key.

Single agenda item meetings can reduce stress, improve morale and increase production. The single item for the agenda needs to be set by management as “What Can I Do for You?”

Meet in small groups. Instruct each attendee to bring questions, written on a notepad. This teaches people to think ahead and to write down the answers. In other words, you are teaching organizational skills. These meetings must not be bitch sessions. The purpose is to answer questions. The goal is to foster communication.

How often should you meet? You should schedule the meetings as often as possible, and more often than you think is necessary. Twice per week is a great start. Make certain that everyone knows well in advance when the meetings will be and what they will be about. Make it clear that these meetings are to be solely for employees to ask questions of management.

Management must never, ever turn a question into an opportunity to lecture employees. It has to be for the employees.

Where will you find the time?

Set short time limits on these meetings. You’ll see the pressure on you and your management team diminish as people get the information they need. Are you answering 50 internal emails a day? 100? That’s not because you are important or because the business is so busy. You’re drowning in internal email because people need answers. They need answers because you are not communicating. They don’t want to bother you so they send an email. When they don’t get and answer they send another. When they still don’t get an answer, they will make a decision (good or bad) or drop the ball (bad).

[Sidebar: If you are getting 100 internal emails per day, your communication is poor. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and get organized. All those emails are your fault, not the senders.]

Take 30 minutes and answer questions in a group setting and you will more than recover that half hour.

In every situation where I have implemented this ‘program’, I’ve seen huge gains in productivity and morale.

People are a lot happier at work if the they feel that they are being heard.

Do you want happier people?

Chris Reich