Now you tell me

ARE your communication problems more the fault of people or more the fault of systems and procedures? I ran a communication workshop a few years ago for a mailing house. They were quite profitable, but boy, did they have some communication issues. People from sales and production attended the workshop, and senior management were also present. The workshop touched on a few of the old communication chestnuts, such as active listening, people issues and body language. I also included a new session. It looked specifically at the internal paperwork used to convey information from one department to another. Things such as order forms, quotation forms, job cards, etc. Most organisational communication problems get blamed on people. The systems operating in organisations are also much to blame for communication breakdown. You can resolve many of your own internal communication problems by running a session similar to this one. Here’s how it went. • Set aside two hours. • Target the group you want to work with – generally it will be with sections / departments that rely on each other for information, eg sales and production. • Select the paperwork (or systems) you want to analyse. Take each heading separately and discuss: • The information required and the reason for it. • Who requires this information and why. • Who should provide this information and why. • What amount of detail needs to be provided and why. • What units of measurement (if any) need to be provided and why • How the information will be passed on. • What actions happen as a result of it being processed. • Clarify any points of difference. This is where the real value of the session lies. In this particular business the way all parties had interpreted the forms was so diverse that it immediately highlighted why many of the problems existed. • Sales staff had not provided all the information needed. (They thought they had provided it or they didn’t think it was important so they hadn’t provided it). • Production guessed what was wanted – angry at sales for not giving accurate information and then getting blamed for mistakes. • Sales had to deal with dissatisfied customers because of incorrect orders – angry at production for making mistakes. • Rework, errors and lost productivity resulted – extra cost, reduced profits, staff dissatisfaction and unnecessary tension and bad feeling. All because of a misunderstanding of how a form should be completed. • Get someone to take notes of any decisions made; this will form the basis for the instructions for completing the paperwork. • If necessary, redesign the form to remove unnecessary information and to include the required information. • Make up an example of how the form should look when completed correctly. • Keep it simple but complete. Use the less is more philosophy. • Keep this example in a place that is obvious and accessible. • Make sure all new people are told/trained in how to complete the paperwork correctly. Make sure that they are trained by someone who knows. • Move onto the next form (or system).

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