Best Practices for Good Communications

By Naomi Millán, Associate Editor  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: Effective Communication Takes More Than the Loudest VoicePt. 2: This PagePt. 3: Finding the Right Communication ChannelPt. 4: Listen: Podcasts on Communications

Effective communication doesn't happen by chance, but rather with careful planning and execution. Only a handful of even high-performing organizations worldwide get this. When Towers Watson started surveying communications practices in 2003, 11 percent of high-performing organizations had some kind of communication evaluation in place, with rewards and recognition attached for communicating for their managers. That figure has since doubled, but there's still a long way to go, Finney says.

"Oftentimes, communication is the most talked about but the least planned for, the most critical for success in some cases but the least acted upon," Finney says. "Everybody assumes that it just happens."

Good communication starts off with understanding and meeting the needs of the audience. Finney says a good way to think about delivering a message within the workplace is to think about how you get communications outside of the workplace. With the rise of social media, like Twitter and Facebook, people are used to frequent and concise messages. "It's like the USA Today version, where it's snapshots of information to keep people current," he says. "It's a matter of frequency, simple clear content and really keeping people informed and engaged."

But people have a tendency either not to share information often enough or to share a lot of information without clear context or clear priority, says Finney.

In addition to being clear and concise, informative and engaging, appropriate repetition and reinforcement are necessary. The average person is bombarded with more than 300 messages while at work, and multiples of that outside of work, Finney says. Getting a message to land with an audience might take as many as 12 repetitions, in some cases, he says.

There's an added wrinkle: Everyone assimilates information differently. Facility managers must compensate for this in order to help get their messages across.

"You're never really going to know what other people need, so you have to learn how to write conceptually and you have to learn how to write procedurally because some people are visually oriented, needing pictures and graphs, and other individuals need step-by-step exact directions with textual directions or flow charts," says Cindy P. Stevens, associate professor, facilities planning and management program, Wentworth Institute of Technology. "You have to learn to write for both audiences. It can't be separated because you never know who is looking at your information."


Overlooked Steps to Effective Communication

It's probably no surprise to hear that the first step of effective communication is raising awareness. But that's not enough. "Oftentimes we see organizations just stop with that," says John Finney, senior communication and change management consultant, Towers Watson. "They make the announcement, assume that everybody read it, everybody understood it and everybody is doing the right thing with that information."

For true effective communication, there are four more steps beyond the initial volley.

Understanding. The second step is to make sure employees understand the information in the message. To facilitate understanding, be sure to make content easy to understand and internalize.

Commitment. Once they understand it, employees need to commit to doing something with the information. "You just can't assume that just because they're aware and understand it, that they're going to act on it," Finney says.

Action. Once they are committed, employees can take action based on the information.

Appreciation. Ultimately you get to the point where the employees appreciate the information provided, the direction provided and the information delivered in a way that's easy, quick and understandable.

— Naomi Millán

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  posted on 3/31/2011   Article Use Policy

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