It’s a safe bet that your company would benefit from some form of training on communications. When I sit down with a CEO to discuss training, the subject will inevitably pop up on the short list of must-have classes. The key to identifying the true need is to differentiate between breakdowns in processes and skill gaps.
Comparing the outcome with the steps in a communications cycle is the perfect starting point for this exploration.
Looking at the cycle provides a visual image to help pinpoint the location of the problem. If a message misfired because it was sent through the wrong channel there is likely to be a question about procedures or even management style. After a major policy change was transmitted only through a lengthy, dense email, there should be no surprise when there are grumblings and lack of compliance. The same analysis can discover that confusion exists between senders and receivers due to a lack of understanding of technical jargon.
Because That’s The Way We’ve Always Done It
Effective leaders review procedures, first internally and then as a matter of policy when information creates more problems than solutions due to transmission errors. If one manager refuses to pick up a phone, or hides in an office firing off emails in 14-point bolded type, it’s an opportunity for coaching and some standards about corporate image and email messages. An overload of jargon can be a training opportunity or simply time to distribute a glossary of terms.
Mind the Gap
If the cycle shows that the gap is in skill or knowledge, it’s time to identify specific education topics. One-size-fits-all communications training, complete with pretty PowerPoint slides, is a mediocre solution. With communications channels expanding every day, with little or no instruction it’s easy to miss or mix up messages. Some of the guidance in the wired and wireless world can be technical and straightforward while other situations will focus on nuances of communications that differ between in-person, virtual and telephone conversations.
Verbal communications skills, including presentations, are frequently essential agenda items. However, written content cannot be ignored. Detailed manuals of style are old fashioned. Core training on written communication that accurately represents the company will never go out of style.
So the next time you throw up your hands and announce, “We need communications training” take a step back and think about where the problem lies. It may be time for a complete class on all-important listening skills or a clearer explanation of the email system.
Rebecca Mazin is the owner of Recruit Right in Larchmont, N.Y. She does consulting, management training, and writing to create solutions for human resources issues. Co-author of The HR Answer Book: An Indispensable Guide for Managers and Human Resources Professionals, Mazin is also the author of The HR Answer Blog on AllBusiness.com and The Employee Benefits Answer Book (Pfeiffer).