Can you hear me now? It’s fun to echo that Verizon slogan in jest when meeting up with friends at a loud restaurant or walking and talking on a busy street while using your iPhone. However, in today’s business world, it’s the main question small business owners should be asking the most important people in their world: their employees.
From updates on company policies, software training sessions, or the annual Groundhog Day party, internal communication is as vital to your business as having a great product. When communication works, employees can create a loyal, engaged company atmosphere. But if, as in the classic movie “Cool Hand Luke,” you have a “failure to communicate,” the result can be poor daily performance, increased turnover, and decreased net profits.
Whether your business has three people or 300, staying connected with your employees is tricky. Relying on emails or a “How was your weekend?” chance run-in by the water cooler doesn’t work any more. The new reality is that, for many small companies, there isn’t even an office, let alone a water cooler. So, owners are turning to new technologies to communicate with their workforce while striving to remain focused on tried-and-true basics.
You are the master of the email, the wizard of the memo, the guru of the Google calendar. But all of those lack a key component: seeing someone’s face. Why not send a video message versus an email? “Today, people are bombarded by text: emails, text messages, IMs. It's hard to stand out, and hard to get your employee's attention. Video puts you right there next to them,” says Greg Zumas, president and co-founder of StudyPoint, a leading national provider of one-to-one, in-home test preparation, and academic tutoring.
Tom Murray, president and CEO of Villa La PAWS, runs two pet resorts and a canine training academy in Phoenix and one pet resort in Castle Rock, Colorado. He incorporates video, specifically Skype, into many areas of his business. ”Participating in a face-to-face meeting or a gathering is, and will always be, the most effective venue for selling, conveying a message, and building long-lasting relationships,” he says, “Today, I can sit across the table, albeit a virtual one, and observe head nodding, witness emotions and facial contortions, or I can even join in a belly laugh.”
Zumas points out another advantage of video over other traditional communication methods: it can be replayed. “Messages are missed the first time," he says. "If you're trying to say something complex, a recorded video allows the viewer to pause, rewind, or replay it later.”
Try new platforms to get connected
If you weed through long email chains that do not address time-sensitive questions or have consistent problems providing project documents to more than one worker, you have an internal communication structure that isn’t working. It’s worth investing in and trying out new software and technology to connect and engage everyone on your payroll.
CEO of Remote Stylist, Kelly Fallis, oversees her interior design start-up company of 20 people utilizing software programs like Nimble to ensure streamlined productivity among her teams, which are scattered across locations from Ottawa to New York. “[Nimble] allows employees to share files, videos and images easily across all computers. Assigning tasks in Nimble is useful—all team members can see who is responsible for what and stay on track even if they aren't able to discuss it in person,” she says.
Khaleelah Jones, a writing and communications consultant, serves as the communications chair on the board for the non-profit Awaken Africa and found that having a solid, working intranet is key for engaging everyone—those located in South Africa and elsewhere on the globe. “[We] set up a great intranet site that includes everything any employee could need, from payroll information to a message board that notifies users when a message is posted,” she says, “In this way, [our] small, international organization is connected enough to know about important events including—but not limited to—the birth of a new baby or the addition of a new service line.”
Apps aren’t just for games anymore. Curt Finch, CEO of Journyx, an Austin-based company that automates payroll, billing, and cost accounting for businesses worldwide, uses a variety of communication apps to stay connected. “A clear line of communication with assistants or other personnel can maximize office efficiency,” he says, “Office Bleepster and other individual communication apps allow for communication during meetings or while on phone calls. With a single tap of the finger, you can send a message without interrupting a speaker or another executive during a meeting or presentation.”
Rebuild your fundamentals
Nothing replaces good basic communication skills. With overscheduled, plugged-in schedules, those interpersonal elements often go unused. Take the time to connect with employees and, most especially, listen to them. “We use email, text, Twitter, telephone, Facebook and many other vehicles to deliver our message more than we sit down to have good old human interaction,” says Terry Jackson, who helps companies improve organizational effectiveness and profitability as a managing partner of WEpiphany, “[As a result], most people do not have good listening skills. They listen to respond versus listening to understand.”
He points out a strong communicator does not just talk, but listens as well. “Listen for what is, not what you think it should be. It is the most important component of communication,” he emphasizes. A good communicator keys into what is said, along with what isn’t. Become a keen observer of body language, engage with your employees, and take notice of how people interact with you and each other—hone that invaluable skill that will help you in every area of your business and beyond.
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