Job Talk - The Heart of Productivity
Eileen McDargh, CSP, CPAE
Read the word "productivity" and chances are you envision
assembly lines, warehouses stocked with goods, even
space-age machinery performing tasks at faster-than-human
speed. Or if you are in corporate management, your mind
recalls the U.S. production statistics when compared
to foreign countries. And it's a sure bet that you have
read widely on the various end-of- the-alphabet theories,
quality circles, re-engineering, learning theories and
other management techniques to increase productivity.
These are all valid considerations when confronted with
May I suggest however that the building block of productive
labor -- the cornerstone that makes assembly lines flow
smoothly and service teams work -- is communication.
It used to be you’d hear the phrase “ stop talking and
get to work.” The far better mantra is now “START talking
and get to work.”
Consider the impact of poor communications: Tasks frequently
have to be repeated because instructions were not clear.
One department does not understand why another department
needs a report and so it delays sending the requested
material. A receptionist cannot explain the company's
services to a guest in the lobby and the firm loses
a prospective client. A manager misses an important
meeting because she fails to ask her assistant to change
her calendar. Senior executives lose precious hours
in a meeting that becomes an exercise in egos rather
than solutions...all because the dynamics of group interaction
are not understood. An important memo is not read because
of the length and confusing sentences. Employees spend
time trying to ferret rumor from fact regarding the
company's position in a troubled economy. A manager
engages in doublespeak regarding possible layoffs and
morale plummets for everyone.
These are but a few examples of situations that lower
productivity, situations caused by miscommunication,
poor communication, or no communication. And that's
a situation no one wants.
So how does a company, regardless of size, begin to
improve communications for productivity? First, get
a good picture of the status quo. Using either internal
or external help, conduct a communications audit. The
questions are straight-forward and telling:
1.The reason our company exists is to:
2.When it comes to communication, my company (department,
unit, etc.) is... because ...
3.I receive most of my information from… (my immediate
supervisor, the colleagues, bulletin board, the grapevine,
4. I could do a better job if I received the following
information in the following manner:
5.I would describe the majority of our meetings as:
6.I would describe communication with my peers as
7.I would describe communication with my manager as
8.I would describe communication with other departments
9.Communication would improve immediately if
10.I would be a better communicator if I learned to:
Second, prepare a program to give staff and managers
the tools they need to be good communicators. The first
tool is a steady flow of information about management
decisions that affect employees, the marketplace, and
competitors. Without that information, an organization
cannot hope to bring employees into problem-solving
discussions, innovation circles or the like. Although
upper management deals with such lofty and necessary
concerns as strategic planning, capitalization, or international
expansion, it might very well be the battlefront employee
who could see solutions for day-to-day problems. But
without the benefit of management's broader perspective,
the solutions could fall short.
The second communication tool employees need to increase
productivity is a straightforward, clearly written sourcebook
on organizational policies and procedures. Even if a
company is quite small, there will be more cohesiveness
if employees understand the do's, don’ts and how to's
of a firm. For example, the owner of a small enterprise
"just figured" his employees knew what was the vacation
policy and when salaries would be reviewed. Unfortunately,
without a written document, even the boss forgot his
intended policy. The resultant confusion and arbitrary
handling of vacations and reviews netted a disgruntled
staff. And unhappy staff does NOT work to capacity.
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The third and equally important step to take in improving
communication for more productive employees is to provide
training in writing, listening and other communication
Because we all have learned to talk and someone put
a pencil in our hands and showed us how to make words
with an alphabet, there is a tendency to think that
we know how to communicate. Nothing could be further
from the truth.
Speaking clearly, with vocabulary and message tailored
to the audience, is a task mastered only through learning.
Listening, without training, is a selfish trait. Learning
how to listen actively, to "hear" the additional messages
sent by nonverbal signals and emotions, is a priceless
skill. But it must be taught. There are numerous workshops
available for in- house classes as well as sessions
at local colleges and universities. Since group meetings
are a highly preferred communication source, organizations
may also consider training individuals to conduct meetings,
brainstorming sessions and teleconferencing skills.
Likewise, seminars in oral presentation skills allow
all levels of managers to learn effective methods for
delivering audience-oriented reports and speeches.
E-mail now offers another form of communication, which
can be both wonderful and terrible. In fact, I am convinced
that in too many cases, the “e” stands for “error” and
“escalation”. Humans send their most accurate messages
vocally and visually, two components missing in e-mail.
Additionally, responses are often out of context and
sent days later. Use e-mail for facts, immediate answers,
and simple requests. But when emotion is involved, opt
for phone or face-to-face conversation.
Forgetting for a minute the statistical definition
of productivity, let us re-define that term. To me productivity
is the sum total of work accomplished by an employee
in a given job which affects the bottom line. The work
environment may be considered a lake. If miscommunication,
poor communication, or non-communication hinders an
employee from performing duties in a cost- efficient
manner, it's a ripple felt throughout the organization.
Addressing and then working to improve communication
increases the chances for smoother sailing in the white
water world of a global economy.
© 2000 by Eileen McDargh. All rights reserved. Reprints
must include byline, contact information and copyright.
About the author:
Eileen McDargh, CSP, CPAE, is an international speaker,
author and seminar leader. Her book ‘Work for A Living
and Still Be Free to Live’ is also the title of one
of her most popular and upbeat programs on Work/Life
Balance. For more information on Eileen and her presentations,
please call 949-496-8640 or visit her web site at http://www.eileenmcdargh.com.