Education and Communications Pathways and Pitfalls
By: Jim Clemmer
Jim Clemmer is an international keynote speaker, workshop leader, author, and president of The CLEMMER Group, a North American network of organization, team, and personal improvement consultants based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. His other bestsellers include Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance, and his most recent book, Growing the Distance: Timeless Principles for Personal, Career, and Family Success. His web site is http://www.clemmer.net/
"Communications help to keep people feeling included in and connected
to the organization...give people information, and do it again and again."
— William Bridges, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change
- You need to establish the few core messages you want to communicate throughout
your organization. Use any and every communication channel you can to review,
remind, and reinforce them. These include:
- Voice and e-mail updates and dialogues
- Recognition and celebration events
- Annual shareholder reports
- Annual improvement reports
- Visits to, from, and among customers and partners
- Special improvement days and fairs that allow teams to display their activities
- Orientation and training sessions
- Intranet sites
- Toll-free hot lines and telephone information centers
- Get out and talk to people. Multiple communication channels can and should
be widely used to reinforce and support your core messages. But the best
way to communicate is in person. The most effective communication approaches
are like political campaigns. Leaders are out actively "pressing the
flesh" and standing up to present their change and improvement themes
and core messages. During times of major change or refocus, we've seen
senior managers at some large organizations spend well over one hundred
days per year delivering these vital communication messages. That's leadership.
- Develop your "stump speech" or "talking points" among
your management team before any of you heads out to give your version to
the rest of the organization. This generally includes messages around your
Change Drivers, Focus and Context (vision, values, and purpose), key goals
and priorities, change/improvement plans, and such.
Get people together. Get teams together weekly, monthly, and certainly
no less than quarterly. That's especially important for management, operational,
or improvement teams that aren't in the same building. At my previous consulting
company, The Achieve Group, we found frequent face-to-face communications
were the most important when we could least afford the time or the money
to hold them. We continually find that getting the key players together
can turn around most misunderstandings, mistrust, and misdirection. BUT,
and here's the "big if" – only if the meetings are well run.
- Develop highly visible scoreboards, bulletin boards, or voice mail, electronic
or printed announcements of progress toward team and organization goals
- Share all core strategic measurements (including "confidential"
financial, and operating data) with everyone in your organization. Treat
people like full-fledged business partners and they'll act that way. But
don't snow them under with a blizzard of meaningless reports and numbers.
Train everyone how to read these data. Show them how to relate the measurements
to their daily operations and improvement activities.
- Team education, learning, and communication can be kept simple. In my early
management years I got a lot of mileage from having my team sit around
a conference table reading, discussing, and debating selected book passages
or articles. This dialogue established a common values and knowledge base
that enhanced mutual understanding, teamwork, communications, and context
for further training and work together.
- Establish an internal "best practices and good tries" communication
system, clearinghouse, or network. A free flow of information and active
communications is the lifeblood of a learning organization. Use videos,
visits, fairs, Intranet sites, voice and e-mail, meetings, reports, hot
lines, teleconferences, information technologies, and the like.
Get feedback from your customers and partners on the characteristics of
your education and communication strategies, systems, and practices. How
many communication channels are you using? Are they clogged or working
well? What others could you be using?
- When you're sick of repeating the same core messages over and over again
is about the time that people in your organization are just starting to
hear you. First they didn't understand. Then they didn't believe. If you
stop repeating yourself now, they'll conclude that you weren't serious
- Just as a marketing professional would never rely on just one marketing
channel, don't rely too heavily on the management hierarchy to deliver
your core messages. It's full of filters and personal agendas that twist
and distort your messages. Yet you can't go around your managers. They
need to be central in communicating, reinforcing, and repeating your core
themes. So start with them and give them that responsibility. But don't
assume it will be delivered as you wanted. That's why personal meetings
and multiple communication channels are so important.
- Keep moving your best people to the teams, positions, and parts of the
organization that will spread their experience and leadership as broadly
as possible. It's also a great way to continue their development.
Reward and thank people who bring you bad news before it's festered into