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Applied Communication-The Hidden Profit Center

By: Helen Wilkie

Helen Wilkie is a professional speaker, consultant and author specializing in PROFITABLE APPLIED COMMUNICATION. She is the author of "Message Received and Understood!", "The Hidden Profit Center" and other books, booklets, CDs and tapes. www.mhwcom.com www.HiddenProfitCenter.com For information on Helen's services and learning tools, reach her at 416-966-5023 or hwilkie@mhwcom.com.

A few years ago, I interviewed a number of chief executives about their companies' communication practices. With few exceptions, they first assumed I meant communication of management's message to employees, shareholders and customers. They spoke of newsletters, news releases, media relations and other vehicles they used to "get the message out". Some even initially directed me to the Communication Department.

Most were taken aback when I said I was more interested in communication in the workplace, from the executive suite to the mailroom and everywhere in between-what I call applied communication.

A great deal of lipservice is paid to communication at work. Companies generally expend much effort and resources in creating effective communication frameworks, formulating communication policies and philosophies and many even have whole departments devoted to nothing else. Why, then, is so little done to improve applied communication? After all, since we must work and interact with others in the everyday course of business, applied communication is our main vehicle for getting things done.

Why does communication keep coming up in needs assessments year after year despite efforts to meet the perceived need?

The problem is that communication doesn't mean the same thing to everyone. If five people in your organization complain about communication, ask them to explain what they mean. Chances are you'll get five different answers. Here are just a few possibilities.
  • A sales manager doesn't understand the company's marketing strategy.

  • A salesperson wants a clearer understanding of how quotas are set.

  • An administrative assistant feels frustrated because people in her department don't keep her informed of their appointments.

  • Nobody understands the new software, despite reading the manual and sitting through a seminar by someone from the Systems Department.

  • The President suffers through monthly presentations on financial results, and just wishes someone would present the facts behind the numbers for a change.
These are all very different complaints with one common theme: poor communication.

Complicating the issue even further is the fact that management has yet another understanding of communication, and it generally means a system. Systems are in place to meet all these situations:
  • The marketing plan, in glorious detail, is printed and distributed to Marketing and Sales personnel.

  • Quotas are explained at the start of each quarter.

  • People are supposed to tell the admin when they'll be out of the office.

  • The Systems Department sent someone to explain how the software works.

  • Department heads present the financial results, pointing out how they compare to last year and to budget.
What are they complaining about? We have a system.

It's not about the system. It's about a lack of communication skills on the part of those using the system. It's about ineffective applied communication.

And make no mistake, this is an expensive problem. Its impact on the bottom line comes in three ways: through loss of time, loss of business and loss of people.


Time
  • Meetings consume time at a ferocious rate in today's workplace. I hear more complaints about meetings than almost anything else. Too many, too long, too boring. What about too expensive? If you calculate the number of hours you and your colleagues spend in meetings in an average year, multiply by your hourly cost to the company, the result will horrify you.
A meeting is an exercise in applied communication. Lack of communication skills results in too many meetings that last too long and accomplish too little.
  • A $40,000-a-year employee who spends two hours a day reading, writing and managing e-mail represents a $9,000 annual cost. I don't know the size of your staff or its annual salary cost, or how long they spend on e-mail every day, but I invite you to do the arithmetic.
Sometimes communication technology gets in the way of communication-and the result is always wasted time and high costs.


Business
  • Too many sales are lost because of salespeople who arrive in a customer's office and bombard him or her with jargon-filled sales pitches for services and products that may not even fill a need. A sales conversation is nothing more than applied communication. Poor skills in this area can lead to lost business and lost clients-without whom, ultimately, there is no company.

People
  • It's been said that people don't leave companies, people leave managers. In exit interviews people will often confess they are leaving because they didn't feel anyone listened to them or respected them. Sadly, many managers are oblivious to the problem because their own applied communication skills are lacking.

  • Replacing an employee can cost anywhere from 25% to 150% of the person's first year salary.
Do not underestimate the bottom line value of training in the skills of applied communication. A companywide communication training program can drastically reduce these costs in time, business and people.

© copyright 2004, Helen Wilkie

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