The question I most often get from communication professionals who want to make the shift from the current town crier role to one that’s more aligned with improving business results is, “How do I get started? How can I make a difference in our organization’s outcomes?”
I recommend beginning by asking five questions. Here they are, with examples of how the answers can lead to big results.
Q #1: Where are the best opportunities to improve financial and/or operating performance?
One company’s vice president of manufacturing responded to that question by telling us that $50 million had been invested in one of the company’s under-performing operations in upstate New York yet they had seen no significant gains from the investment. “There’s plenty of opportunity,” the manufacturing VP wryly observed.
Q #2: “What’s the size of the opportunity?
The leadership team at the under-performing operation estimated that productivity could be improved by as much as 10 percent and that there was a potential savings of more than $500,000. Certainly worth going after.
Q #3 “What are the root causes of the under-performance?
Both hourly and salaried employees at the operation agreed that improved communication needed to be focused on integrating the union and management leadership. Lack of communication among these two groups was hurting productivity and generating unnecessary costs.
Q #4: What will it cost to improve communication among the two groups of people?
The client project team, consisting of the vice president of finance, the SVP of manufacturing, the communication leader and the local communication professional, estimated that it would cost $150,000-$175,000 to hit the productivity and cost estimates.
Q #5: Is the return on investment (ROI) acceptable?
The local leadership team agreed that this was a major potential win for the operation and the company. They invested $150,000 to improve productivity and reduce costs. Over a period of five months they generated a nine percent productivity increase, which translated to a savings of $737,000 per year and a 700 percent ROI. The operation leader, SVP of manufacturing and the communication leader were pleased with the results, as they should have been!
The company, spearheaded by the communication leader, took the same process to seven more locations and generated similar results and sometimes even greater successes at each one.
Many communication practitioners want to get beyond their historic roles of sending out information that rarely affects organizational results. They are using these questions to start.
Some are boosting their roles by eliminating communication breakdowns that cause employees and organizations to under-perform. Communication breakdowns include mixed messages, slow moving, inaccurate or non-existent communication.
Others are working closely with other departments to boost leaders’ communication skills and to enhance business and financial literacy.
For example, one of our clients made a significant investment in making sure all employees knew what operating income was and how they could affect it. The effort resulted in a 38 percent improvement in on-time deliveries and an accident reduction from 13 to zero. That, in turn, improved productivity by more than seven percent with a whopping 1,148% total ROI. This process works.
Key Takeaway: Top communication professionals can improve business results by managing communication as an integrated process that includes what leaders say and do and what systems and processes, such as incentive programs, communicate. Think about your own organization. Go through the five questions for your company, send me your responses to each and you’ll get a free review. Send your five answers to firstname.lastname@example.org.