“I would never have made it through Virginia Tech if you hadn’t taught me how to write” is how the dialogue often starts, but he added this time, “People talk about the detail and clarity of my reports.”
I am thinking most any professional engineer, architect, or technician who has prepared a client presentation, a compliance document, or a status report would probably agree communication is important yet challenging. That might be true for a lot of employees in most any field.
Yet, businesses have called communications training a “soft skill,” which belies the difficulty of what most of us do every day, effectively or not, in a wide range of formats with multiple audiences. It implies communication is not technical or something that really affects the bottom line. Additionally, assumptions run the gamut, from believing internal training provides all they need to assuming employees will automatically know how to communicate effectively when they are hired.
There is nothing soft about communicating in organizations.
Just consider recent hiring practices. Survey results I have seen show at least half of employers are hiring low-skill workers and training them for a higher-skill job within their organizations within two years. The trends also show employees promoted from within to management positions often do not have the skills needed to supervise others.
If communication affects a high percentage of the results in your operations, you need to determine a way to make communications a priority or what I like to call a professional skill, not soft at all.
If we only hire to the other professional skills, we may be surprised to learn how employees communicate once they are on the job, but the buck doesn’t stop there. We must start thinking differently about retaining employees and viewing training as career-long development.
The problem is most peoples’ formal education takes place early on, with the belief a college degree is the end goal. As a lifelong educator, I can assure you one or two communications-related classes such as public speaking or behavioral science is not enough for advancing a business career in any industry.
I often hear company executives say they have communications training within their organizations. However when I dig deeper, if they do, it is often to support their accelerated technological changes and seldom delivered by someone in the company who has a communications background.
When I was hired at Cox Communications in the late ‘90s, I am pretty sure I was the first within Cox nationally hired to focus entirely on employee communications. I will say there are some excellent examples of marketing or human resource professionals who can focus their energies in communications training. It’s just sometimes, for example, the trainer may not have ever been a manager or an employee in an operations department.
It is probably safe to say learning specialists should spend time in a first-line management role outside of human resources. This is a great way to learn how to interact with employees as a supervisor and how to use the HR tools they have in a different role.
Using the performance management, payroll or benefit changes firsthand while focusing on operational realities would be valuable on lots of levels, and certainly in trying to improve communications.
How do you begin to think of communications as a professional skill worthy of serious training in your company? You may find some of the following conditions enough to drive your to focus on communications training:
Open communication is a concept that almost all companies claim to value, but very few truly achieve. Very few companies get beyond survival without it. It goes much deeper than having open doors or paying lip service to frequent one-on-one interactions with managers.
You will know you have open communications when employees feel like the company they work for cares about them, values their work, has their best interests in mind and views them as part of a collaborative team.
Managers learn how to communicate from their previous experiences. If you have not defined how your company should communicate within and made that a daily experience, managers will always revert to their own experiences, as an employee or to how their former bosses communicated. Sometimes that’s great, but not always.
Assuming who needs communications training will only lead to average results once you implement your plan. Employee surveys, analysis of performance, review of critical issues and results that were affected by communications are all critical steps.
Be sure to include team members who are in technical roles, human resource specialists who interact across departments, and in most cases, depending on the specific training objectives, any personnel who need the skills to meet your objectives.
Talk to a professional communications consultant to help you to identify resources and strategies. You may find it more valuable to outsource the training. There is often a benefit to having objective views involved, and the trainer will know how to engage all the participants in the training as there are no biases or “in shop” experiences influencing the results.
Teams are only as good as their communication. I hope you won’t set your business up for poor results, limited employee engagement, or lowered productivity by treating communication as a nice-to-have soft skill. Your business’s culture and dynamics are always evolving, whether from the internal or external environment. Staying on top of this professional skill is critical!
Susan Long-Molnar is owner of Managing Communications, a Virginia Beach-based firm that provides communications strategy, training, consulting and content management. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org