Our award-winning columnist, Jeff Dearduff, advises companies to create a formal plan to combat the failure to communicate.

Failure to Communicate

As a manager, getting your message across today seems easier than ever. If you have a problem with someone, send an email. If you need to let someone know where you are, send a text. If you actually have a need for someone to hear your emotion, you make a call and hope it goes to voice mail. Today, we find that the easy way to get our information or needs communicated is to avoid personal contact. How did our predecessors manage this before technology stepped in?

I will admit that I, too, find it easier to use forms of technology to share some of my messages than to confront certain people face to face. This is not because I don’t like human interaction. Rather, some people just require some level of documentation. Our world is very competitive, and with everyone looking for an edge, you need to be protective of your information. By documenting that you shared your information with someone else, you have proof where the idea, suggestion or solution started. You also have concrete evidence when someone says that they weren’t informed.

All too often, communication gets lost as if it were inside a silo. As everyone knows, individual ingredient silos are the best way to manage the bulk materials that need to be kept separate from one another. Likewise, a lack of trust in the workplace will cause us to use silos to keep information and individual involvement separated when there two or more different approaches to a situation. Working in silos can delay, and in some cases, destroy the outcome of a project or mission. The people working in silo one have their approach and timelines and those in silo two have theirs as well. Many times these silos are built because of personality clashes, and other times because the significance of a project or mission drives selfish behavior. Many times, silos are a product of the workplace environment or company culture.

No one typically sets out to build silos, sometimes they just happen.

In today’s ultra competitive workplace, companies use the terms “teamwork” and “collaboration” but how many really operate that way? You’ve heard the expression that there is no “I” in team, but if you pull a couple letters out and rearrange, there is a “me.” Such selfishness has made teamwork a very misused term today. If groups operated like “teams,” more progress could be made. We have all seen what happens when the quarterback and the wide receiver are not on the same page in the playbook. The receiver zigs when he should have zagged, and the ball flies into the hands of the opponent. When workplace environments create too many different approaches to the same project or mission, the end result can be too disastrous. Project schedules and deliveries can be upset and business can be lost.

The bottom line to this realty is, like Cool Hand Luke once said, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”   

Now that I have dumped a bunch of realities on you, how do we truly fix it? The easy answer is “Can’t we all just get along?” Since the easy answer probably won’t work in most cases, here is an alternate thought.

When you are approaching a project where the end result affects many different people, departments or product groups, we must find a way to involve everyone in one form or the other. Implementing a formalized and project-specific “communication plan” may just be the best way to combat the tendency to work in silos.

A communication plan has many purposes, but the simple goal is having a method for sharing 100% of the project’s information with 100% of the personnel involved. A good communications plan can give your day-to-day activities a focal point, help you set priorities, provide you with a sense of order and control, and protect against last minute, seat-of-the-pants decisions.

The communications plan should start out with a written document that describes what you want to accomplish. Basically, you want to state the plan’s vision and mission, and how following the plan will support the project in all aspects. You will want to describe your goals and how you intend to meet your objectives by using a plan. Then, you need to identify all the players that will be communicated to, the timelines by which communications will be shared and the tools you will use. Finally, you need to describe how you will monitor the quality and success of the plan.

When it comes to communication tools, all of the techy things described at the beginning of this article do apply, and when used properly, they can add speed and accuracy to information transfer. A set of tools used in a communications plan for a specific project should incorporate written documentation, verbal communication and electronic storage. There are many online project management sites where the team can store and share business cases, budgets and financial information, drawings, quotes, purchasing documents and, most importantly, project schedules.

To learn more about developing a communication plan, throw a few key words into a search engine and click away. If the results of that seem overwhelming, I guess you could just “talk” to somebody that has already done it.

Jeff Dearduff