An old Chinese proverb says, "A mountain cannot turn, but a road can." It means a person can try different directions to avoid an obstacle. At the office, a worker with poor communication skills becomes the obstacle.
Bad communication can cost a company that has over 100,000 employees to lose $62 million a year, according to communications expert David Grossman. He calculates that each employee in this environment loses about $26,000 a year in productivity. Work from home (WFH) also exacerbates the miscues. According to an April 2020 Kaiser survey, two-thirds of Americans are experiencing more stress compared to the same period last year, and 45 percent say their mental health has been negatively affected.
Good and timely coordination is more important than ever. Here are a few consequences of bad communication at the workplace.
Lost productivity and low morale.
Has a boss ever asked you to perform a data-entry task that involved hundreds of rows on a spreadsheet? Or asked you to write a presentation or memo but sent you the wrong instructions? Frustration often ensues, as deadlines and milestones are missed. Two-thirds of U.S. professionals are confident they can be effective working from home, according to LinkedIn's June 2020 survey. But that also means a third of employees need to adjust to using online technologies for virtual meetings, team collaborations, and networking.
I sat down with Hemanth Puttaswamy, CEO of Malbek, a modern, cloud-based contract management company, to get his thoughts on eliminating silos and improving coordination across departments. He has spent years helping enterprises with contract management solutions that enable legal, finance, and sales professionals to make contract data discoverable and relevant.
Puttaswamy says aside from poor communication, there can actually be non-existent coordination, because workers or managers aren't tuned in. Thus, employees who work inside silos may not get critical data in a timely manner. These situations can wreak havoc for sales managers or legal operations when they don't have visibility into critical business terms in their contracts. Puttaswamy says modern technology is part of equipping and empowering teams. Accurate insight enables teams to do their jobs properly in the time allotted.
Team members spinning their wheels.
Disconnects drive a wedge between co-workers and cause the whole team to spin its wheels. Thus, employees can shed "blood, sweat, and tears" without any achievement to show for it.
A 2019 survey by Dynamic Signal found that 80 percent of U.S. workers felt more stress because of ineffective company communication, and 63 percent have actually wanted to quit because it interfered with their ability to do their job. Moreover, 17 percent of employees would recommend firing their CEO based on how the company communicates to its employees.
Good communication is especially important during the pandemic, whether employees are working from home or at the office. It creates a safer work environment: People are more likely to follow safety protocols and reduce incidents. Moreover, people's behaviors and performance match expectations.
The mission doesn't get achieved.
WFH leaves no room for misunderstanding or for projects that go sideways. Collaboration tools like Zoom or Slack are only effective if people convey and receive the appropriate information. Good info reduces mistakes and team members are able to accomplish the organization's mission. They're more productive, effective, and enjoy higher morale. Instead of blaming each other, colleagues share the credit and congratulate each other.
Teams fail to accomplish the mission for many reasons, but often the root cause is lack of leadership. Employees work on the wrong tasks without looping in their managers. As a consequence, the company can lose customers or clients. Workers who aren't dialed in end up implementing the wrong policies. They misinform team members who make the problem worse by working on the wrong tasks themselves. Misguided colleagues receive poor performance reviews. Mistrust festers in silos.
Leaders must provide clear guidance all the time: It's perhaps their most important responsibility. Their troops are only as effective as the clarity of tactical objectives and strategic goals. Employees already face many unknowns in the pandemic recession, and leaders should not compound the problem by exacerbating the fog of war.
When you communicate, use simple and clear language that cannot be misconstrued or misinterpreted. A message should be understood by the entire audience, or a leader isn't doing his/her job.
Correction: An earlier version of this column misstated the name of the company Dyanmic Signal.