Increasing business is the top priority of companies, whether large or small. Just as important, but often overlooked, is preparing a workforce for that growth. As smaller companies increase in workforce size, they face issues aligning their teams to their business priorities. The greatest contributor to overcoming growth barriers is a strategic communication plan to keep employees informed and engaged.
For small businesses, finding the resources to effectively plan and communicate internally is tough. Often, just making sales and getting product out the door demands all of management’s attention. Changing old communication patterns is challenging, because often top managers don’t realize the point when old communication methods stop working and they need to employ new vehicles.
At a small, one-site business, the head of a company may likely know every employee’s name, as well as the names of their spouses and children. He or she doesn’t need formal communication plans to inform the team of changing priorities, because with a shout down the hall, everyone gets the message. That less formal style becomes ineffective, though, when the workforce expands to more than one location or the sales force is on the road with customers more than in the office.
At that point, managers need to consider what business indicators and other messages are key to keeping the team informed and what the best methods are for getting that information to their teams. Management also needs to think about how often the information needs to be shared.
Let’s start with the content. Determining the key information to be shared with a team requires an understanding of who is depending on whom for getting work done. A brainstorming session with the team will uncover that information and help to identify the items and often the frequency with which those items need to be shared.
What can be more difficult, though, is finding the right communication vehicle for sharing that information. In today’s electronic world, many companies make the mistake of assuming e-mails alone are an effective communication device, and it’s easy to understand why. The communication sender can put all of his or her content in a nice e-mail form, and even attach additional documents if needed. The sender can control who the information goes to and when it is sent.
The fallacy of the e-mail-only assumption is that just because information is pushed to a recipient, it doesn’t mean the person reads it or even understands it. Often, face-to-face meetings or, for groups that can’t meet in one location, teleconferences are necessary to ensure the sent information is understood and usable. This can require scheduled meetings for a team. Such meetings require discipline, and set agendas can help speed things along so everyone’s time is used effectively.
As teams grow, another challenge is ensuring that strategic information is passed down the chain from the top and feedback is sent up to management from the frontline people implementing business strategies. This requires formalized expectations from each level of leadership and leadership training so leaders acquire the skills they need to do the job effectively. Just because a manager is good at his or her job doesn’t mean that person intuitively understands how to inform a team. Too many companies have failed because managers didn’t receive the simple communication training they needed to keep their teams aligned. Managers can also be critical in collecting input from their teams on how well a strategy works when it’s being applied on the ground and send that feedback to the top decision-makers.
As businesses grow, it is critical that leaders prioritize communicating within their organization as highly as they prioritize acquiring new customers. If employees don’t understand the strategy and expectations, they won’t deliver. If management doesn’t receive timely feedback on the effectiveness of business strategies, those strategies will fail.
Michelle Hicks, a senior professional in human resources, is a director in the communication practice of Buck Consultants, a Xerox company.