Tell Everyone Almost Everything
Lack of communication can create a bound-to-fail situation
I hope the title of this article made you a bit uncomfortable, because that is what I was aiming for. The current employee crisis in the service industries is forcing us to change the way we work. Employee retention is a high priority and communication plays an integral role in job satisfaction. If an employee feels connected to a company, he or she will be less likely to look for another employer. The challenge for owners and managers is to make sure the right people are informed about the right things.
For example, an employee that knows her or his company is growing, adding more trucks and looking to hire will feel better about the future. Those informed employees can also become recruiting tools because they know their organization is looking for great people. They might also have constructive suggestions on other aspects of growth, such as new vehicle configuration or potential service additions. It never hurts to have your people feel like they are part of a team.
Another area of our businesses that need to be included is the office staff — especially everyone who answers the phone. They should be aware of everything going on so they can relate the excitement to your customers. This might not mean giving the details of everything happening, but someone working for a growing company will naturally have a better attitude than someone working with a fear of future unemployment. Anyone on the phones should also know what advertising you have in the market and any that might be upcoming. Few things sound more awkward than a support person asking the customer calling in to read the latest mailer out loud.
Some of you might be thinking your communication style is fine; you already have an open door policy and if anyone wants to know anything they are welcome to ask. This is not good enough. Some people will never ask—they will just get disgruntled and leave. We need to be proactive and consistent in our communication. It could happen in a regularly scheduled meeting or in a company newsletter. The communication should be easy to understand, thorough and upbeat if possible. I mention “easy to understand” because I have seen accounting documents distributed in meetings where half of the people in the room had trouble following along.
This communication can happen in regular morning huddles or weekly team meetings. The “when” is not as important as keeping everyone current with the things going on in the company. I am often asked who should deliver these messages — more importantly, again, the main focus should always be that everyone who needs to knows what’s going on. Who delivers the information boils down to the best person to do the job on a consistent basis.
The company newsletter is one of the best communication practices. Make it personal by including an employee spotlight or a customer review section. The reason I like a newsletter so much is it takes away some of the pressure associated with communicating. If it’s in the newsletter, then you don’t have to worry about which segments of your organization you told what things. Although a newsletter is not as powerful as a face-to-face meeting and lacks the ability to field clarifying questions, it is far better than no communication at all. Some organizations use a mix of meetings and bulletins to keep everyone current. More communication is better. In fact, this reminds me of a mentor I once had who said, “Hyper communication breeds success by default.” In other words, if we do nothing other than communicate more, things will get better.
I will also warn you at this point that if we don’t let our people know what’s going on, they will make things up for themselves. I visit a number of businesses throughout the year and some of the things I hear would be funny if they weren’t the perceptions of actual employees. At one business I visited, the customer service team was convinced the company was being sold because the trucks all looked different. During a meeting with the team, I was told they weren’t worried about improving because the new owners would probably change everything around anyway.
The real reason the trucks had changed was that the company had decided to rebrand. Every ad piece, the website, the uniforms, and even the building color were reflecting the new image. The only problem was, nobody remembered to tell the people who answered the phones. Left in the dark, they made up their own reason. You can probably assume the level of customer service that this scared and confused team was delivering.
At the beginning of this article, I said tell people “almost everything” because I know there are details you don’t want to or need to share with your team and that’s okay. I am not suggesting you share your personal income information or outstanding loan balances. The last thing you want is an unknowing employee sharing your company’s current financial success or (potentially worse) your struggles. Along with sharing knowledge, we should not forget to include some training around how to use this knowledge in relation to the job. We are trying to build engaged, enthusiastic brand ambassadors—not people throwing out every fact they know at the answer of a call. I want you to share everything that needs sharing so you know your team has the tools to make them great. If we do this right we sound more professional, our people feel more engaged and the customers will feel like they want to work with your company on their projects.
One final note: If you are worried about how much your team will reveal to people over the phone, I would suggest you build a simple communications policy. This is just a set of guidelines that takes the guesswork out off your employee’s jobs. Start with the things you never want discussed and work forward from there. It might seem like a daunting task, but once you start it will almost write itself. Make sure you spell out what you want customers to know and what you would like kept in house. While you’re at it, include some guidelines on how to handle media inquiries and calls from special interest groups. The less you leave up to “common sense,” the better you will feel about informing your employees and the more you will know that they have the right tools to do the right things.