Tag Archives: communication and continuous improvement

Building a Culture of Continuous Improvement…

The “Elephant” in the Room?

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

Does Your Organization Have a Strategic Internal Communication Plan?

Missing Link in Communication?

In a previous post we identified five ways to enhance the success of Continuous Improvement (CI) within an organization, with “communication” being one of the keys.

Consider that, even if a team applies the CI methodology to great success but no one hears about it, the goal of making CI a cultural way of doing business will not catch on.

However, facilitating consistent and open internal communication is one of the many things in life that might be simple, but not necessarily easy.

For example, Bruce Bolger, Co-Founder of the International Center for Enterprise Engagement, shared an interesting observation recently when he said, “Most organizations put far more effort into communicating with customers than with employees.”

We’ve found Mr. Bolger’s comments to be accurate. In many cases, customer communication is the higher priority, thus making it easy to put internal communications on the back burner. In other instances, the “silo” approach to operations tends to result in haphazard internal communication.

To gain the best results from its CI as well as its Engagement effort, an organization must connect these initiatives, along with internal communications, to a strategic and systematic approach.

Four Components of the Best Project Team Meetings

meetings2Our previous two posts referenced some interesting data about meetings, and some thoughts about assessing the quality of our meetings. To complete this series, today’s post will share more definitive information about running the most effective meetings.

To begin, a definition: In their book “How to Communicate,” Patrick Flanning, Matthew McKay, Ph.D., and Martha Davis, Ph.D. discuss group meetings and the dynamics of communication. They define a business (or project team) meeting as being a task-oriented group activity where group issues or problems take precedence over individual issues or needs.

A review of www.bestmind.com will reveal that “the best meetings are the ones where attention is paid to content, design, and process.” We are also reminded that meetings are not destinations, but rather vehicles for reaching strategic objectives.

The four key elements involved are:

  • Design
  • Plan
  • Process
  • Follow-through

Design is a function of purpose, and involves participant selection, location, and scheduling.

Before designing a meeting, it is important to define its purpose and goals. Only those who are crucial to goal achievement should be invited, as every meeting has an impact on the normal day-to-day responsibilities of the attendees. In addition to participant selection, designers sometimes select others to act as meeting or group leaders or guests who can serve as subject-matter experts.

While site decisions are normally straight-forward, scheduling often is not. If, for example, the purpose of a meeting is to solve a critical problem, then the meeting is likely to take priority over other scheduled events.

Training meetings, on the other hand, can be scheduled around busy times of day or year; and project team meetings, which are generally recurring, are best scheduled at regular intervals. Scheduling these meetings on the “same day and time” each week or every-other week can help participants better-plan their own work schedules and can also improve absenteeism problems.

Once design decisions are made, planning is the next step. Though vital, the need for planning is often overlooked, and poor planning is the most common cause of unproductive meetings.

Ideally, planning is done by both the meeting leader and the participants. The planning process, however, begins with the leader, who must conduct appropriate research so as to be capable of effectively organizing an agenda and leading the group.

Once created, the agenda should be distributed to participants prior to the meeting (a day or two in advance is best), and the leader should encourage the group to not only become familiar with the agenda but also to prepare themselves for a meaningful discussion of the issues therein.

As part of the planning process, meeting leaders should also compile handout/visual-aid materials, anticipate group reaction, and plan for group interaction.

When necessary, the most effective meeting leaders also familiarize themselves with the room and with any props that will be used during the meeting, such as a microphone, projector, or audio-visual system. It is also the leader’s responsibility to verify the availability of such props, and to make sure they are fully-operational before the meeting’s scheduled start-time.

Process involves starting and ending the meeting on time, establishing a decorum, presenting content, assigning the task of taking meeting minutes, coming to a consensus, and setting a follow-up course of action.

The best meetings are brought to order with a restatement of purpose and an explanation of the “rules” or guidelines, such as structure, the scheduling of breaks, who will have the floor, how questions will be addressed, how long the meeting will last and, most importantly, how attendees should interact with one-another (i.e., “no interruptions, open-mindedness, etc.)

It is then the leader’s responsibility to keep the discussion on-subject and focused on pre-defined group content and goals. It is important for the leader to maintain control, to identify “off-agenda” items and place them in a “parking lot” or on a “to be addressed later” list, to draw conclusions from the dialogue, and to identify the next step(s) in the process.

Just as lack of preparation often results in poor meetings, poor follow-through is the most common cause of failure to accomplish anything after-the-fact.

It is the leader’s responsibility to identify and/or assign follow-through steps and to monitor follow-through activities. If required, a follow-up meeting should be scheduled prior to adjournment.

To be sure that all participants are on the same page, the astute leader will allow time for questions, and will end a meeting by summarizing both the discussion and the conclusions that were drawn, along with all agreed-upon next steps.

The meeting summary mentioned above should then be distributed to all attendees, and the leader should follow-up with those tasked with action items to provide both support and accountability.

As with all forms of communication, meetings only work if they are well-planned, well-executed, and well-managed.