Why Internal Communication Matters – What Small Biz Managers Often Ignore

Management January 25, 2013

Not too long ago a friend of mine was telling me about why she planned to quit her graphic design job at one of the world’s largest rum distillers. This firm isn’t small fries by any means – it maintains dozens of offices on four continents.

“Why?” I asked her.

“They don’t know what they want.” She said.

“What do you mean?”

“They give half-baked instructions.”

“That’s every other large company on the planet.” I exaggerated, mostly to make her feel better.

“No. You don’t get it. Our marketing manager told me to make a poster.”

“And?…” I asked, waiting for her to continue.

“That’s it!”

“What do you mean ‘that’s it’”? I asked incredulously.

“That’s it. She didn’t even tell me what it was about. So I asked her if we had a promo running and she goes ‘yes’ – and she seemed annoyed. “What size”, I ask her then she goes ‘Wait, let me ask. But I need it immediately.’ So I ask how I can make it if I don’t even know what size we need. She just shot me this dead stare and says ‘Just do it.’”

“You’ve got to be kidding. Does this happen often?”

“It happened 8 more times that week.”

“Didn’t you get an e-mail about the promo?”

She just shrugged.

The Science Behind Communications Gaps

I’m sure all graphic designers, writers, and programmers have experienced this at some point. We often talk about the need for clearly communicating to customers.

But internal communication is extremely important as well. I didn’t ask my friend how that poster turned out, but whatever the result, it was a lot more trouble than it should have been.

Internal communication problems are more of an issue for larger businesses. In a lot of smaller businesses, people tend to know each other a lot better and points are often clear, even when left unspoken.

As a business grows however, there may be too many people to keep track of, red tape then starts keeping people from interacting more freely.

Employees fragment into their own groups within departments or teams. It’s almost unavoidable and several studies on the subject of cliques and groups.

Dunbar’s number for instance, suggests most of us are only able to maintain stable social relationships with around 150 people, despite what Facebook seems to suggest. Since your employees are likely to have friends and family outside of work, that severely limits the number of other employees they could be chummy with.

A Serious Problem

Age, interests, personalities, and shared experiences play roles in determining cliques within an office. Suffice to say, problems with clear communication is something that will always happen as a company expands – you’ll have fewer experiences in common and soon you’ll drift apart. New people will have even less of a social foothold and consequently bond with other new people. We’re hardwired that way -and it’s a serious barrier to success when making a leap from a scrappy enterprise into a bigger, recognized business.

As in my friend’s case, these can cause serious problems and general ugliness down the line. We’ve all heard of people passed over for promotions or raises because they didn’t know the right people.

It’s not necessarily because of malice, but sometimes people in charge (like you, if you’re our target reader) just fail to remember things that might be very important. Like specific employee performance for instance.

What You Can Do

These effects can be mitigated. Team-building exercises, workspace and rest area designs that allow for better interaction can help – as would a more objective employee evaluation criteria. Hiring and promoting people with the right set of personality traits is probably the best thing you can do.  But you’ll never totally take it out of the equation.

Lessons learned:

  1. Internal communication is just as important as  external communication
  2. It will be harder as your business expands. 
  3. There are plenty of way to deal with this, but don’t expect it to disappear.
  4. When talking to a graphic designer (or online printer), always be as detailed as possible. We all just want to do a good job. 

 

 

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