Internal Communication Standards
If your business is small, you might feel creating a set of communication standards is unnecessary, but any business can benefit from the increased efficiency of formalized communication standards. Besides, your business won’t always be small.
Formalized communication standards don’t mean that people can’t have off-the-cuff conversations or impromptu meetings with each other. It's simply a way to keep information from falling through the cracks. Formalized standards make sure no one misses an important announcement, that the right people get the right information at the right time, or that everyone has input into an important project.
Communication standards will be unique to your business. In fact, you've probably found that an approach that works well with some team members does not work as well with others. Remember the relationship diagram you designed earlier? Have a look at it again. It represents the working relationships that exist within your business and, consequently, the communication relationships as well.
As you review these relationships, consider the specific communication needs of each. For example, your receptionist might need to deliver messages to employees who are out of the office and managers may need to let their staff know about their working priorities for the week. Think about how these relationships work, and what type of standards you want to set for communication in your business.
When writing out your communication standards, here are a few ideas to start with.
- Be clear about your purpose - Successful organizations use clear and focused communication. Their messages are consistent, and all stakeholders understand the objectives, as well as the path to achieving them.
- Use appropriate methods - It will help to detail which type of communication you want used for particular activities. For example, you may want to clearly state that all requests for time off are communicated through the Time Off Request Form, or that all disciplinary items will be handled face to face.
- Keep communications timely - Having the right information at the right time is paramount to job performance. You may want to set standards for the communication of KPIs for instance, or supplies ordering.
- Lead by example - What you say and do as a leader will be mirrored by your staff. You may want to specifically write into your standards that they apply to all team members.
In the space below, write out your Internal Communication Standards.
Following are some of the various tools of formal communication available to you. As you consider your communication needs, look for the most efficient and reliable method for each situation.
- Electronic Communication
What follows are five recommendations for effective electronic communication. This includes voice mail, e-mail, instant messaging, texting, etc.
A. Whenever possible use electronic communications – Do this so messages can be sent to groups of people at the same time. It also leaves a reference trail as incoming messages can be automatically sorted to save time when reviewing and responding.
B. Leave detailed messages with specific questions or information rather than initiating a game of time-wasting phone tag. For example, if Bob leaves Sally a message asking her for the sales figures from last month, she can leave him a message in return with the exact information. That is considerably more effective than a message that simply says, “Call me.” If Bob needs to discuss the figures with Sally, he should leave her a choice of specific times he can be available. She can then choose a time that also works for her. It’s much more efficient than, “Call me to set up a time to meet.”
C. Establish a message response policy (example: Phone messages will be returned within three hours. E-mail messages will be responded to within 24 hours).
D. Keep things simple. Encourage people to use point form when appropriate. There’s no need to encourage an environment that has people wasting time trying to impress each other with long-winded messages.
E. Take advantage of new technologies – Obviously, only do this when they can save you time and/or money.
Voice mail should be used only when a copy does not need to be held on file.
E-mail: Non work-related messages should be kept to a minimum.
- Hard Copy Documents
Despite the advances in electronic communication, sometimes paper-based documents are still more useful than electronic versions. For example, when employees don’t have access to their own computers, when memos must be attached to items or packages, when signatures are needed (although even this is changing,) or when sharing information in a meeting such as an agenda.
In computerized offices, paper memos can sometimes make a particular message stand out. For example, a personal thank you from the CEO to everyone for working overtime on a project might be more effective on paper.
Use standardized forms whenever possible. Forms save time, create order and maintain a certain standard. Depending on their use and your situation, forms can be electronic or paper based. These will typically be tied to your systems.
Employees who wish to take time off over the summer should complete the Vacation Request Form and submit it to their supervisor before the end of March.
This is any information that is posted for all to see. It could include erasable white boards, cork boards, programmable electronic signs, direction signs, letter box labels and so forth. If you need a simple method to remind your employees to clean their dishes in the kitchen, for example, why not post a sign?
Upcoming jobs should be posted weekly on the employee job board.
Face-to-face communication is the most powerful communication channel we have available to us. On the other hand, meetings called for the wrong reasons or meetings that are unorganized can be a terrible waste of time. All meetings should be planned in advance and where possible, regular meeting times should be established so people can plan their schedules around them.
When calling a meeting, try to send out your agenda along with any additional handouts in advance. That way you can have a more in-depth discussion when you gather. Meetings are expensive. You’ve pulled people away from their regular work so make sure you’ve got a good reason and be prepared.
Meetings should be called for the value of the group dynamic or for communicating emotional content along with a message, rather than for disseminating basic information. Ask yourself, “Can I communicate this just as easily with a memo or an e-mail?” If your answer is yes, don’t bother with the meeting.
Individual meetings will occur monthly between employees and their direct managers. Team meetings will occur bi-monthly. Informational Meetings will occur weekly. Departmental meetings will occur every Monday @ 9:00 AM.
Meetings don't have to be boring. They don't have to be a waste of time. They can be productive and energizing. In fact, if your business is going to be effective, you'll need to master and teach the art of holding successful meetings.
Six Basic Categories of Internal Business Meetings
One-on-One meetings - As a leader in your company, one of the most important things you can do is to hold regular one-on-one meetings with your directly reporting employees. This is your opportunity to coach, lead, inspire, motivate, listen, train and problem solve with them. If you're not doing regularly scheduled one-one-one meetings, you're guaranteed to be out of step with what is going on inside your business, and your employees will be feeling neglected. These meetings are valuable for your business to keep the lines of communication clear and honest. They give you an opportunity to evaluate performance, speak with staff about their role in the company, and handle any and all challenges that arise before it's too late. Understandably, things come up in the course of regular business that will cause you to reschedule these meetings. The temptation can be to cancel these meetings or to think of them as less important. Don't do it. These meetings are incredibly important when it comes to maintaining the culture of your business. When something comes up, it's okay to reschedule these meetings, but only cancel them when absolutely necessary. These meetings can be fairly informal, depending on the culture in your business, but do have a standard agenda that your report has had a chance to prepare in advance. As they are regular meetings, keep them short and on task, which will help you to avoid the temptation to cancel them when urgent business arises.
Quarterly, or Annual General meetings - These keep everyone up to speed on the company plans and provides a chance to ask questions, give feedback and make suggestions. Not only are these meetings important for your staff to feel like they are part of the big picture, but they provide a unique opportunity to give your employees a company-wide voice. These meetings help all stakeholders understand their role in the company.
Team or Project meetings - These are typically creative or problem-solving meetings with a purpose. For example, an advertising agency might hold a project meeting to come up with a new ad campaign for a client. They can also help keep a group on track concerning the direction or timing of a project by having people give progress reports. All teams need to spend time together planning strategy and then reviewing results and instituting improvements. These meetings provide an opportunity to develop the leaders in your company. Make sure they are well run, with agendas going out to all team members prior to the meeting so the meeting is kept short and productive. Share project plans, KPIs and dashboards to keep all stakeholders informed.
Informational meetings - Sometimes short informational meetings (usually daily or weekly) are the easiest way to keep people on track or to hand out work assignments. For example, a shop foreman might hold a quick meeting first thing every morning to explain the jobs for the day. Many companies do quick five-minute morning meetings at the start of each day. For these to be productive, they must start and end exactly on time. It's best if participants stand rather than sit to keep the energy and mood appropriate. The purpose of these meetings is to bring the team together and make any announcements that need to be made for the day. This isn't the right time to enter into any kind of debate. If issues come up, a note is taken to deal with it when appropriate.
Emergency or Big Announcement meetings - One-time informational meetings, usually with an entire organization or department. Sometimes a piece of information is too important or personal to deal with in a memo.
Strategy or Management meetings - These are the meetings where plans are made. Objectives, dashboards and KPIs are monitored and discussed.
“Once somebody asked me to identify the single most useful management technique that I learned through my years of managing. My answer was: the practice of regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings.”
Always have a specific objective - Don't call a meeting if you don't know exactly why it's you are calling it. Like most things, meetings are best to begin with the end in mind. You may be holding a meeting to deal with a specific issue, or you may be holding a regular one-on-one meeting with a direct report. In every case, you should enter the meeting with a clear understanding of why you're there and what you hope to accomplish.
Start and finish on time - Don’t wait for stragglers, and if you must go over-time, acknowledge it at the very least. As a business owner, you've likely found that more and more of your time is taken up with meetings. When you started, much of your time was likely involved with doing the actual work, more than planning or analyzing it. For many of your managers, it's the same way. More of their time now goes toward planning and supervising. What this means is that unproductive meeting time can be a very big frustration, not to mention a resource drain. Meetings will be met with more enthusiasm if you have a culture that respects everyone's time.
Have a specific agenda - It will keep you on time and on topic. Distribute the agenda to all participants in advance of the meeting. This allows them to come to the meeting prepared, and will help keep the actual meeting time to the minimum required.
Assign someone to take minutes - This will give you a clear record for future reference. This person is also responsible for distributing the minutes to anyone who may have been unable to attend.
One way to keep meetings from running on is to schedule them before lunch or closing time. This will encourage everyone to be more efficient with their time.
Keep the meeting moving. You don't always have to be the meeting facilitator, but you do need to make sure every meeting has one. For a meeting to stay on track, there must be an individual that guides it. As your organization matures and climbs up the value pyramid your culture will start to reinforce these principles and it will become easier and easier to hold effective meetings.
Be sure everyone gets a chance to contribute. Feeling shut out of a meeting can be very damaging to a team member's sense of workplace fulfillment. To ensure you are making the best decisions, you need to have all the ideas come to the table.
Seek and record closure on each item as you progress. Specify responsibility and authority for each task by assigning ownership to an individual or department. Specify deliverables and deadlines so all involved are clear on outcomes. Do this as you move through the meeting.
Watch body language. People communicate just as much with their expressions, posture and gestures as they do with their words. There may be times when it will be beneficial to take a break, or even adjourn the meeting if participants need to digest information. You may also be able to tell who needs to be actively engaged.
If you have individuals who are constantly interrupting or doing more than their share of the talking, making it difficult for other team members to have input, you may need to come up with creative ways to shut them down. Of course, you want to do this without damaging feelings or relationships. One good method is to engage the over-active participant in another role, like taking notes on a flip chart. It can be very useful to have a written policy on meetings with specific means of dealing with interruptions, off-sides and rabbit trails.
Finalize and summarize all details. Go over each action item and recount ownership, deliverables and timelines so everyone can leave the meeting knowing exactly what was accomplished and is expected.
Thank all participants - It may seem like a small thing, but it's important to thank participants for their time at the end of each meeting. As we discussed in Leadership, time is much more valuable than money, and a showing of appreciation is appropriate when participants have invested time into a meeting.
A general rule of thumb is to standardize the communication procedures that occur on a regular basis. For example, if departmental meetings are needed every week, they should be placed on a permanent schedule (i.e. Departmental meetings occur every Monday at 8:30 AM in the boardroom).
Create a Communication System.