Sunday, 20 February 2011

Communicating Well in Small Businesses - National Post

Don’t underestimate the power of not communicating. In the absence of you clearly communicating what is on your mind, other people will make up their own minds about what you’re thinking. While conducting some workplace satisfaction interviews for a new client, I learned that some of the employees feel that the company’s proprietor is a snob who rudely avoids them. I probed to find out more about the circumstances under which these individuals felt ignored. It turns out that when they ask him about a salary increase he doesn’t follow up with them. This is not an approach that I condone. However, it is an approach that I understand. Because the organization has no set time of the year for performance and salary reviews, this business owner can be a target of these requests on any given day. Who wants to be asked for money every day? Therefore, he has created a coping mechanism, albeit not a great one, which is to avoid these salary increase seeking employees.  You know what they say, ignoring your problems doesn’t make them go away. In this case, avoidance caused his employees to feel uncomfortable and to create an impression of him that was not accurate at all. The proper way to prevent these random requests and how to avoid the perception that you as head of the organization ignore your employees, is to establish a set time of the year for an annual performance and salary review. 
Due consideration. Part of communicating effectively is hearing what other people have to say and giving it due consideration. In one case, an employee at a boutique sized marketing firm has felt for a long time that the hours she works are excessive - and she’s right. She has brought this to the attention of management who kept promising her that it was temporary.  After a few months, this employee’s long hours haven’t changed and saying that  it is ‘temporary’ at this point is clearly not true and is in fact dismissive. In this case, this is particularly troubling as the person who is distressed about her long work hours is regarded as a high performing employee. Communication, especially when it comes to the management of key employees, is not just about saying something, it’s about giving thoughtful consideration and a well thought through response. In this case, the employee confided in me that she feels undervalued. Clearly the manager’s lack of communication has led the employee to create her own idea of what’s on her manager’s mind. 
Both ways. Don’t wait until you’re faced with a complaint or a resignation to realize that an employee has something he wants to say. One agency I work with has recently decided to have one-on-one interviews with each employee, they feel it’s worth the time and cost to learn what is on their employees’ minds. A less expensive option is a self administered employee satisfaction survey. They are a good practice, providing the leadership of the organization can respond to the needs revealed in the survey. It’s better not to ask in the first place then it is to ask for their opinion and then do nothing at all.
Communicating optimally for the business. In a small business, where everyone is in close proximity to how the business runs as a whole, it’s important to encourage employee input on certain business decisions.  This is not something that needs to be done via e-mail just because people have PDA’s they can access 24/7. People need to talk to each other, face to face. It’s a great practice to have a casual weekly or bi-weekly meeting where each person can talk about what they’re working on as well as what support they may require. This round table weekly update is used really successfully by one of my clients and it only takes fifteen minutes of everyone’s time. The president of the company feels that having these weekly meetings has alleviated the issue of having employees come to her door randomly and ask her questions that their colleague likely knows the answer to. In fact, she challenges everyone to ask two colleagues their question before they come to her - it’s not that she’s unapproachable, it’s just that it’s more optimal for them to ask a colleague then it is to interrupt her. She welcomes any and all questions at the weekly updates and has found that her employees have fabulous ideas to share regarding how to grow her small business. 
Optimal communication in small businesses is best when it’s cooperative, low tech and well thought through.