Thursday, December 19, 2013

Communication Clutter

 We live in a world that is so connected yet is seems that we have become disconnected.  I watch people walk around and instead of looking people in their eyes, smiling and offering a greeting they are staring at a mini screen in their hands.   I have seen people that send thousands of text messages in a day and likely do not say anything of consequence.  Companies have communication systems and tools yet the employees are not sure how they are performing or where the company is going or the company’s progress.  This process seems to be a continuum rather than a destination.  We are slowly moving down a path where we are becoming one with our technology rather than becoming one community, one family, or one company.  I would like to explore the cause of this situation and potential outcomes and offer some recommendations.

I recall my first cellular phone.  Back in the early 1990’s I had a phone installed in my vehicle.  It was so big that it had to be placed in a box in my truck.  The service was very limited but provided a great tool to stay in contact with the office when I was in range.  Over the years the technology improved and we evolved to bag phones then to the classic Motorola brick phone.  This progression helped restoration companies maintain contact with our clients and the office.  Walking around with a cell phone strapped to our hip showed that we were modern and even became a status symbol of sorts.  Being connected was a great tool.  In our 24/365 business we were able to maintain contact with our clients, improve our service and even cut down on cycle times for projects. 

Improved cellular technology has progressed into instant email contact and messaging.  Prior to email communication every employee had an inbox or cubby in order to receive important written communication.  Now messages are transferred immediately throughout an organization.  The challenge today is that in many organizations the messages can become overwhelming and extremely time consuming.  In an effort to keep everyone in the loop and to communicate important details about projects, the company, clients, events, programs, meetings and activities, we send a message or email.  I have worked in companies where employees receive hundreds of emails every day!  There are several substantial problems with this communication.  The first is that important details can be lost in the clutter.  We want to be inclusive and communicate our message so that everyone is in the loop, yet we have done quite the opposite.  Personally I cannot take a vacation without taking several breaks each day to review messages.  If I wait until I return then I have an overwhelming amount of information that cannot effectively be prioritized and filtered.  As a result I review email every day – even on vacation or at family events.  If an employee gets over one hundred emails every day it is easy to see how an important detail can be overlooked in message number 62.  The additional concern with the sheer volume of emails in most companies is the time that it takes to review and comment if necessary on the messages.  Most management employees are spending an hour, or potentially substantially more time, each day with electronic communication.  This is significant if you think that this is 15-20% of your available time each day.  When this adds to efficiencies then this is not a problem.  The problem starts to occur when the time spent reviewing communication takes away from knowledge transfer or simply adds to the tasks and responsibilities for your staff. 

Tomorrow’s workforce has been raised in a world where this communication has always been present.  Learning to talk to others and work cooperatively is not a common skill.  My children feel left out because their friends all have cell phones, handheld video games, an X-Box, i-Pods and i-Pads and a plethora of other electronic communication devices.  I still struggle to figure out how this technology fits into, rather than detract from a busy family.  I am sure that my children are the exception and I appreciate other families that are fighting the same battle and holding out as long as possible.  The reality is that tomorrow’s workforce and many of today’s worker’s are growing up in a world where common communication skills are not learned.  Some of your clients are also part of this new generation – they want an IM or email rather than a phone call or a visit.  Part of your challenge is to have your communication systems meet your clients and employees in a position of comfort.

Disaster restoration is an interpersonal business.  Our employees have a lot of one on one contact with our clients.  Many of our new employees have been raised in the always on, multi-tasking generation with three projects going on at the same time, the constant email reminder and text receipt notification in the middle of an important task is their reality.  In the middle of this you have a client that needs empathy, care and concern and clear communication about their property and valued possessions.  Do you have the systems that allow this to effectively happen?  If you understand not only the field you are playing on but also the nature of your players, you should know that you need a system to assure consistency in communication with your client.  I strongly recommend the Strategies for Success program offered by Steve Toburen and Jon Don as a resource to create your client communication systems. 

Your internal communication systems should be deliberately addressed and reviewed frequently.  Without a strategy you will find that the messages keep expanding often without a justification or assessment of the effectiveness of the communication.  Look at your systems and process for conveying information in your business.  If you are communicating with a group then you should look at how you are sending or conveying the message and then determine the following: is it necessary, are you using the most effective medium, and are you sending to the correct group of people? Consider a sunset law on existing emails and text messages.  Review each standardized message to see if it is still relevant or if there is a better way to convey the intent of the message.  As the use of electronic communication grows you there will be a natural tendency to increase the volume of emails that are sent.  Too frequent communication will have the same impact as too little communication. 

Impersonal communication devices obscure the messages that are being delivered.  Effective management and leadership require two-way communication.  An email response is impersonal and does not assure understanding of a message, only receipt.  Your staff performance will improve when you have face-to-face meetings and also have a relationship with your staff.  Your employees want and need to be understood.  Email messages eventually create a barrier between you and your staff.  Some managers do not want to take the time to talk with staff and others do not want to face conflict.  Avoidance will lead to indifference and assures that you will have conflict and frustration in the future.  Develop a relationship with your staff and take an interest in them and their family.  Taking an interest does not mean that you need to develop a friendship.  There is a big difference and it is important that you maintain a professional but personal relationship.  Get out of your office and have conversations with the people that you work with.  Make sure you take the occasion to offer compliments – even if you feel they are just doing their job.  Let people know where they stand and also offer opportunities for personal and professional development and advancement.  This can be accomplished through effective face-to-face communication and not through email. 

Organizational communication needs to be deliberate and effective.  Your company should address the need to convey company information as well as individual performance.  To get discretionary performance from your staff then you should let them know where you are going as a company – your goals and vision.  Also offer updates on progress toward achievement.  Your employees have a desire to be a part of something bigger than their job or their position in your company.  Take the occasion to tie them to your purpose, mission, vision and values.  I strongly recommend holding at least a quarterly and ideally a monthly company meeting to discuss company direction and progress.  Individually you should be holding at least annual performance evaluations. Your staff deserves to know how they are doing, how they contribute to overall corporate goals and more importantly how they can improve and achieve their professional goals.  

There are many great communication resources at your disposal.  It is important to understand the tools that you can use to improve your company.  It is equally important to use discretion as you introduce new technology.  Start with the big picture by understanding the results that you wish to achieve prior to purchasing solutions to problems that you may not have.  Take time to talk with your customers and become intimately aware of their expectations and needs.  Face to face communication assures that you will not only talk, but also understand.  My friend Howard Olson from High Out-put Training talks about your client’s desire to be profoundly understood.  You will create a better company when you develop an understanding of your employee’s as well.  Make sure you understand their frustrations, expectations and aspirations.  You can then supplement this understanding with the quick and frequent communication using emails, instant messaging and other digital communication.  An effective organization will be created when you create connections and understanding rather than just talking. 

Phillip Rosebrook JR is a partner with Business Mentors.  He is a 26 year veteran of the restoration industry and helps restoration companies define and achieve a compelling vision.  He can be reached at You can also follow on Twitter

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