Learning & Development

Tips to Improve Workplace Communication

Do you remember that childhood game telephone? Someone whispers a phrase in another’s ear and that person is supposed to repeat back what they were told to the next person? After this continues down the line, the last person stands up and repeats the phrase they think they heard. The phase given by the last person is always different than what was said in the first place.

This is a lot like what happens at companies. But in the workforce, bad communication results in a larger-scale game of telephone, and unlike kids laughing at the repeated phrase being wrong, it’s not a laughing matter when company communication breaks down.

Examples of external company communication breakdowns

Let's look at some companies for examples. The following real-life case studies will demonstrate bad communication and the negative results that were caused because of it.

1. KFC coupon fiasco = angry customers

Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) wanted to partner with Oprah Winfrey when they needed to promote their new chicken. Because we know just like, “Oprah's favorite things,” people buy what she promotes. The issue? KFC didn’t estimate properly the number of coupons that would be downloaded from the Oprah website. This led to a lot of mad customers who never received their free chicken. KFC then had to backtrack and reimburse these customers.

2. New Coke = lost sales

Coke and Pepsi have always been in competition with each other. So Coke decided to launch New Coke as a way to be innovative and draw customers away from Pepsi. The issue? Coke’s customers didn't understand this new version of their beloved drink and didn’t buy it. This led to a loss in profits and wasted money on product creation.

3. Cartoon Network’s bomb threat = lost jobs

The Cartoon Network decided to create a new campaign in the Boston area. This campaign was meant to promote one of their new t.v. shows. It involved placing LED lights around the city. The issue? Residents thought they were bombs. The campaign obviously fell flat, but even worse, employees were let go from this bad campaign decision.

4. Phillips Morris promotes death = lost customers

Ever since it came out that cigarettes have been linked to cancer, cigarette companies have been scrambling to figure out how best to promote their products. Phillips Morris decided to launch a campaign in the Czech Republic that said cigarette deaths were actually good because it saved governments on costs like healthcare and pensions. The issue? Not only did they offend their current customer base, but most of the population resulted in lost customers.

5. Toyota downplays faulty breaks = tarnished brand

Toyota once had a line of faulty brakes. Instead of recalling them when they first knew about this issue, they waited. In the meantime, Consumer Reports took cars with these faulty breaks off their report of recommended cars and stated why these cars were left off the list to their readers. Toyota was then forced to admit their wrongdoing. The issue? The damage was already done to their brand.

Bad internal communication leads to consequences too

These are just a few examples of the importance of workplace communication externally. Now let’s take a look at internal communication and why that’s equally as important. Here are some reasons you need good communication throughout your departments and company.

Relying only on one form of communication

As technology has advanced, the importance of workplace communication has become tougher. Gone are the days people get up and walk to a desk to ask a question. More often than not they will send a quick email or communicate through a company app. The problem is email or apps are great for some forms of workplace communication, but not for others. Companies that only use one form of communication will experience breakdowns. Diversification and creating a communication plan are key.

Training is lacking

Companies that don’t fully utilize their learning management system won’t have a cohesive company message. Think about how often employees search the Internet at work looking for answers to project questions. Instead of this company time wasted, why not add more training so that employees will have the necessary tools to do their jobs effectively? Focusing on training ensures the entire company is on the same page.

No employee interaction

Employees usually start the job running and give little time to the big picture. This mistake creates no common company goals and employees’ unhappiness. And for companies, this equates to profit losses and gaining no new customers. If companies took the time to train across departments then each employee would see how their role benefited the company as a whole. This training can take place in a blended environment with some interaction online and also some face-to-face time in a classroom setting.

Employee turnover

Everyone wants to feel valued. Employees want to know what’s going on at their companies. For example, if your company has a new product rollout, a huge write-up in a major publication, or an unexpected sales year, employees want to know. The issue is more often than not, employees are kept in the dark and only made aware of new information if it directly impacts their job duties. This mistake creates employees who don’t trust their organizations, feel underappreciated, and confused as to the overall company goals. That’s why creating training objectives should not be overlooked to properly communicate these types of company information.

No voice

There is a hierarchy in every organization whether intentional or not. So, employees often feel if they speak out of the chain of command, they will be reprimanded or even lose their jobs. The importance of workplace communication is key to creating innovative ideas that may come from unlikely sources.

For example, take Elon Musk. He sent an email to employees telling them they are free to talk to whomever they want to in his organization if they have an idea or feedback of any sort. This free form of internal communication leads to empowered employees. Plus, you never know which of your employees has that company-changing idea!

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How to improve your workplace communication

Now that you know some of the issues of both internal and external bad communication, what are the ways to improve it? What are other companies doing that you could be capitalizing on? Where should you begin? Here are the steps to take in order to have an effective communication plan in place.

1. Make sure all employees are “in the know”

Learning and growing is what every organization strives to do. In order to achieve this, you must give your team members the tools to do so. Most companies know that a learning management system is a way to centralize employee training and development, but it should be more than this. Use your learning management system as a way to communicate company direction versus doing so through a separate Intranet.

Square’s take on knowledge sharing

Take Square, for example. Square has over 600 employees with several in countries around the world. CEO, Jack Dorsey, needed a way to effectively communicate company direction to all employees. He decided that when two or more employees are in a meeting, one must take notes and then share these notes to an email address that can then be read by all interested employees.

But Square could take this philosophy one step further using its learning management system. Notes could be stored within this system and downloaded or read whenever an employee logs on. One central database for training and knowledge sharing creates an easy system for employees to access anytime.

2. Create a mentor program

Starting a new job is hard for anyone and it’s especially difficult if you are newer to the workforce. Creating a mentor program allows knowledge sharing on an informal level. Senior member staff is typically paired with junior employees. These seasoned employees can provide a roadmap for navigating the company, answering questions along the way, and being a sounding board for concerns.

Snack Nation’s take on mentoring

At Snack Nation, instead of a formal mentor program, they formed a “buddy program” for new hires. As part of their onboarding process, each new team member is assigned a “buddy” from a different department. The company's idea was to help new hires assimilate to the culture and provide a company resource other than a direct manager. What they didn’t expect is this created a great flow of communication across various departments and led to new collaboration on existing projects.

3. Employ a cohesive communication strategy

Most companies view communicating externally to their audiences as different communication than to their employees internally. This often creates a disconnect on what message is being sent to employees and which one is being given to customers. This leads to an overall breakdown in communication. The best strategy is to merge internal and external communication tactics into one clear goal or direction.

GE’s take on communication strategy

GE has done just this. They recently underwent a lot of structural changes and needed a more comprehensive communication plan regardless of which audience they were speaking to. GE has decided to discuss company changes in the direction first to their employees and then take this same message to their customers. This approach allows GE to see how their employees will react to these changes and then can better understand how their audiences will react. Plus, this creates an open atmosphere where employees feel the company is being upfront with them about shifts in direction. The bottom line is their internal and external communications share the same common goal now leading to a stronger company.

4. Use the best communication method

Today there are so many ways to communicate your message both internally and externally. To name just a few emails, podcasts, apps, social media, and videos. With so many options available, first, think what is the ideal vehicle to get your message across. Next, consider your audience and what vehicle will work best. Finally, write these details down in your communication plan. This will ensure that all messages are received and understood by all audiences.

Microsoft Services Asia’s take on communication vehicles.

Microsoft understands the need for effective communication vehicles all too well. Since they are a massive company and their Asian subsidiary alone has 5,000 employees based in over 17 countries, communication can break down quickly when using the wrong form. They first tried email communication because of the various time zones their employees worked in. The issue was each employee was receiving well over 200 emails a day!

When employees complained, they stopped the emails and chose to try another tactic instead. Their solution was “Five-minute Fridays.” Basically, these are weekly podcasts created by managers to communicate with their teams. These were well received and team members even asked if they could be included to showcase their current projects.

5. Take criticism

No one likes to hear something negative said about them. Companies are the same. And with social media and online reviews, negativity can run rampant.  However, it’s important for companies to listen and read negative comments just as they would to positive ones. And this should be regardless of who is initiating this criticism...employees or customers. Find a forum where customers and employees can speak their minds. Some of the best product tweaks come from constructive feedback that may appear negative at first.

Hubspot’s take on criticism

Digital marketer, Hubspot gets criticism and knows how to utilize it correctly. They foster a company culture of transparency. For example, their Chief Technology Officer, Dharmesh Shah published an article entitled, “Ask Dharemesh Anything.” And he received comments, some not so flattering from users. And internally, Shah has said, “It's not uncommon for members of the team to call my co-founder and me naive, disconnected, or worse.”

Hubspot knows how to take the positive with the negative. This allows them to get the most honest feedback and make changes for the better. Plus, it creates a strong team where employees are not scared to speak up.

What improvements can be made at your workplace?

Communicating is easy. The hard part is doing it effectively. The importance for workplace communication is vital for any organization to be successful.We’ve given you some examples of leading companies and what communication tactics they use. But what are some tactics your organization uses in order to create strong communication? Have they made an impact on your company’s productivity and sales? Please comment below and let us know. We’d love to hear what works for you.

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