Asking 'are communications important to businesses?' is a bit like asking how vital is it to build your sales up.
Good communications are crucial – not least as they create those vital sales. What you say, who you say it to, and by what means, are all central to running a business.
However, don't stop reading, thinking you already do lots of 'communicating' as an organisation. The title of this article should actually be, the importance of EFFECTIVE business communications.
Including when is it too much, or why aren't your target audiences listening?
"A vision without a strategy remains an illusion." - Lee Bolman.
There is a vast amount of information available in modern industry and commerce. What can be in short supply is information management.
Not just in terms of how organisations collect and use data either. Information management also relates to how well your company informs, influences, persuades, and activates people via the written or spoken word.
The missing factor is often a communications strategy. One that manages information well, and that incorporates the steps involved in constantly reinforcing the communications skills of managers and other key team members.
Most companies have a Business Plan – alongside many other types of documents laying out both goals and the tactics to achieve them. Including ways to measure progress against each plan's aims.
How many companies have a Communications Plan though? With similar goals, strategies and ways to evaluate outcomes?
We are not talking about a Marketing Plan – but information management across a much wider arc.
One study that suggests as many as 60% of organisations don't have internal communications plans!
"Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act." - Pablo Picasso.
Your business communications strategy must look at what information is transmitted but also who you are talking to, and how. Including all target audiences, and the directional flows of information exchange.
Forget two-way communications, to be successful you need to focus on - and plan - four ways that business information must go:
The last one is not just about marketing and sales. What other target audiences do you have (such as your supply chain) and how can you be strategic and focused in your communications with them?
In making a clear and consistent plan for transmitting information across all four of those directions, perhaps the most commonly neglected is across. How well are you facilitating cross-team communication, and showing staff how they fit within the wider organisation and its aims?
It can be incredibly empowering. For example, giving your stock room team a chance to chat with your salespeople can help both to set more realistic goals and working systems.
Creating a timetable of business communications can automate some of the work involved. However, you need to keep it personal, as we explain later.
We are more concerned with the mechanics and measurement of effective business communications in this article. However, we can't completely ignore the 'tools' needed.
This can be as basic as making sure all your relevant staff have up to date devices and are working on secure, well-integrated software. Then, putting into place technical support to keep them connected, and systems to 'check in' on whether the data being sent to them is being read and understood.
Mobile phones are by far the most preferred means of communication these days. However, don't assume everyone is equally adept at using one.
Also, you cant let business communications start to 'bleed' into people's lives beyond their working hours. Just because they have mobile phones on them in every waking hour, doesn't mean you can ignore the work-home balance that's so crucial.
You need to be clear on your goals within your communications strategy, so you have something to measure your success against. It is shocking how many organisations believe they operate comprehensive and effective communications across all their target audiences, without ever actually evaluating that.
By this, we don't mean read receipts for emails or ticks on documents within your intranet system. How much of what you are saying as a company is understood and gets the response you were aiming for?
This can be an uncomfortable process sometimes. Asking a room of people 'What did you get from that presentation – tell me what you think and feel' can sound like a therapy session! Finding out your monthly staff newsletter is ignored (or the butt of workplace jokes) is deflating.
However, at least you can correct the course of your communications to get back on track! Taking time to establish levels of learning and emotional response is a core part of effective business communications.
"Effective communication is 20% what you know and 80% how you feel about what you know." - Jim Rohn.
Digging down on levels of understanding and response can also involve making sure workforces are 'emotionally' engaged by what you say as a company. Do they feel motivated and well supported, and wholly behind your corporate vision or project goals?
Your corporate vision should not be just a clever statement that sums up your brand. It should be a contextual framework for everything you do as an organisation.
All your target audiences should be given regular reminders of how they fit within this vision, and how they contribute to your long term business goals. Preferably, with plenty of 'Thank yous' to show appreciation!
The flip side of this is throwing out instructions to colleagues or your team, with no context or end goal. Or asking clients for their patience or more orders, without telling them how important they are and the benefits you offer them.
Leading on from the point above, to be successful in business communications, you must transmit information from a position of emotional intelligence, tailoring much of what you say to a personal level.
To engage each type of target audience, you must sound like you are talking directly to them. And that you care about their response to what you are saying.
Which one sounds like an organisation interested in its staff, and likely to get the most enthusiastic response?
Follow up your refresher course by asking participants questions, such as what was most useful, and what else they can think of to cut costs. It shows respect for staff, you get feedback on whether the course was understood and also new business intel you can use!
Just because there are so many modern ways to communicate, doesn't mean you should use them all, all the time.
To establish meaningful and measurable corporate communications, it's helpful to have processes in place. When are you going to use telephone calls, meetings and app messaging options? This would generally be for when a personalised messaging is vital, or you need to transmit urgent information.
When does that need to be reinforced with a more detailed set of information – such as a follow-up email?
Clearly, when you need to transmit significant amounts of detail or a set of steps to follow, written communications such as emails and reports are vital.
Never underestimate the importance of face-to-face meetings too, as they can be the best way to use body language and warmth in your business communications. It can be a great way to stimulate a more fluid interaction between people too.
To reinforce your multi-way business communications, you especially need to focus on collaborative processes and activities. How well is information shared across different teams and individuals, and among project/department members?
What opportunities exist for regularly evaluating how smoothly this information is flowing and how well it is being utilised?
Evaluating the success of corporate communications goes hand in hand with taking the steps needed to dismantle roadblocks and fill in the gaps.
That needs to be achieved in a non-judgmental way if you offer a no blame or shame corporate culture of course. Lack of understanding should be seen as a communications shortfall, not a reflection of someone's intelligence or commitment.
Communication deficits could be system issues interrupting information management and flow.
Read more about Barriers to Effective Communication in the Workplace.
It could be that the systems and wording you are using in your business communications are leaving some staff struggling to comprehend the messaging. Identifying these deficits is as important as working out which of your brand statements and marketing communications works best.
If someone is not fully understanding what you say, shouting the same thing is not going to get a different response! You need to look for new ways to express your business messaging or give your audience opportunities to ask questions that will help them to unlock your messaging.
Not everyone learns at the same pace – and some people need constant – empathetic – reminders to help them put information into practical, everyday use.
The need to constantly evaluate and 'refresh' your business communications is especially true of remote or hybrid teams. Checking in with individuals should be accompanied by ample opportunities to address their individual issues and queries in an empathetic, positive manner.
Remote working can be isolating, and make it harder for teams to feel cohesive and goal-orientated. So, your organisation needs to take meaningful steps to overcome that. Including offering remote workers some opportunities for social exchanges and spontaneous team-building opportunities.
Also, one of the most common information shortfalls is when someone new joins a team. Onboarding new recruits or assimilating new personnel into projects is when you need to be especially purposeful in your communications.
By not only providing a comprehensive amount of information, but also offering abundant opportunities for questions. This should include friendly, constructive 'litmus tests' to evaluate understanding.
One of the main things that can go wrong with business communications is information overload. This loops back to the start of the article and your information management strategy.
Fundamentally, you need to work out who needs to know what. It could mean varying the messaging giving progressively less detail or background, according to the target audience.
This is a balancing act really. To empower and engage your workforce, they need to feel like they are being trusted with business information and that their feedback counts. That should never mean bombarding them with emails - and documents to read on your intranet – or oversharing sensitive information.
Too much information is counterproductive. Employees start to ignore your messaging, and you actually get less effective business communications due to spoken or written word fatigue.
If this all sounds a lot to orchestrate when running a busy business, it's worth considering some of the benefits of getting your business communications right!
Finally, investing in creating and then measuring business communication goals enables you to find improvements. Including ways to build new communication skills in managers, and leaders.