Among the highest achieving organizations we’ve worked with are those that have successfully planned and developed high performance cultures of continuous improvement. A vitally-important tool for bringing about a culture of continuous improvement and engagement within a workforce is communication, which many people agree is the most frequently-used skill in today’s workplace.
Aside from standard team or project meetings, there are a number of ways leaders might go about accomplishing this. For example, employee forums are an ideal way to engage people around their work and contribute to the building of a high-performance culture of continuous improvement.
Consider that one of the most obvious yet often overlooked requirements for high performance is a setting for employees to share and discuss problems and ideas for improvement.
But too often, managers and leaders tend to believe that if someone has a really great idea for improvement, they will raise it. Yet when we talk to people close to the work, we more often hear ideas they have carried around for months or even years but never found the right time or place to share; or felt their idea would not be welcomed.
Even worse, when no forum for sharing improvement ideas is provided, people adapt to the way things are and stop noticing the waste—the elephant in the room—and stop trying to think of better ways.
But it is important for business leaders to recognize that some forms of communication are better than others. In fact, as reported in a recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) article, a survey of 400 companies with 100,000 employees each cited an average loss per company of $62.4 million per year because of inadequate communication to and between employees. The article also referenced another study showing that miscommunication in smaller companies of 100 employees cost an average of $420,000 per year.
For example, many organizations use suggestion boxes as forums. But the results are often disappointing. While a suggestion box requires little time or effort to initiate, its success relies on the ideas being completely and clearly expressed in writing. Unfortunately, many people with good ideas simply cannot express them well.
Furthermore, if a suggestion requires more explanation or development before it can be turned into a really great idea, the suggestion box does not offer an opportunity for clarification, debate, or refinement. Even worse, when the initial ideas are not fully formed or expressed, and management doesn’t have an opportunity for clarification, the ideas are harder to act upon, and often management loses interest. When people notice nothing comes of the suggestion box, they stop offering ideas.
Here are some additional examples of costly miscommunication in business environments identified by Helen Wilkie, a consultant and author specializing in profitable, applied communication:
- Long, boring, poorly planned unproductive meetings that reach no conclusion and serve no purpose
- Sales presentations that show no concern for, or understanding of, the client’s needs
- Wasted time due to miscommunication about time or scheduling
- Badly written e-mail messages that cause misunderstandings, ill will and wasted time
- The email habit of unnecessarily “replying to all”
- Employee alienation caused by managers who don’t listen
- Lack of understanding between people of different age groups
- Lack of understanding between male and female employees
Ultimately, the best forums are regularly scheduled gatherings in which people can surface and discuss problems, waste, and opportunities for improvement.
Examples of effective discussion forums were shared during one of our Partners in Improvement sessions, which included:
- Monthly safety talks at the end of which the company president discusses pertinent issues with team members and provides input as well as support
- Weekly one-on-one session between management and team members during which leaders not only offer ideas and support, but also gather feedback on successes and challenges
- Regular “town hall” meetings where he shares information about what is going on and what to expect, and also provides an opportunity for people to raise questions or concerns