Tag Archives: effective communication

Focusing on Internal Customers

Communication is a vitally-important component of Continuous Improvement (CI) within an organization. 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.

Good communication can also be a key driver of profitability as, if nothing else, it can reduce or eliminate the cost of miscommunication.

For example, an article published by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) referenced a survey of 400 companies with 100,000 employees each that cited an average loss per company of $62.4 million per year because of inadequate communication to and between employees.

Even smaller businesses of 100 employees suffer the impact of miscommunication, the article suggested, as it went on to quote Debra Hamilton’s article “Top Ten Email Blunders that Cost Companies Money,” in which she stated miscommunication cost these smaller businesses an average of $420,000 per year.

Clearly miscommunication is expensive!

Yet 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 internal communication efforts, leaders might do well to focus on employees as “internal customers.” Maybe then it will become easier to formalize and value internal communication protocols.

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.

When I Die I Hope it’s at a Meeting!

People frequently express their frustrations after attending a non-productive or out-of-control meeting. Thus the title of this post, attributable to the famous source “Anonymous.”

We’ve seen statistics from the Wall Street Journal indicating that barely half of all business meetings in the US are productive, and that a simple email could have taken the place of nearly a quarter of these meetings!

A recent discussion about the meeting facilitator’s role in Continuous Improvement projects consisted of similar comments, as well as several suggestions for running the best meetings:

  • The facilitator must have good organizational skills and must use them to properly plan each meeting in advance; this might include organizing a conference room or conference call, creating and distributing an agenda, and making arrangements for meeting minutes to be recorded
  • A facilitator should have some understanding of the topic they are facilitating and should make sure the meeting stays on topic and focused on the purpose
  • Not just anyone is able to successful facilitate or lead a meeting. Key skills required include good communication skills and the ability to engage the audience, organizational or time management skills to effectively transition from one topic to the next, and leadership skills so that others will be looking to the facilitator for direction
  • Start and finish each meeting on time, and follow-up on next steps