Good communication is vital to any business. Sales, hiring, marketing and other important business functions rely on the ability of a company's leaders and employees to exchange information, collaborate and make decisions.
But as many businesses have experienced firsthand, that flow of information isn't always smooth and seamless. When communication breaks down, the results can range from poor morale and strained relationships to missed opportunities and lost profits. Business leaders and experts shared a few of the most common points of failure in workplace communication:
Email overload. Employers and employees can get in touch via phone calls, text messages, chat services and social networks nowadays. And yet, across the board, most companies still use email as their primary method of communication. Phil Simon, business consultant and author of "Message Not Received" (Wiley, 2015), said that the average person receives 120 to 150 emails per day. While message delivery is typically reliable, he said, it's very likely that a person will misplace, delete or not even see a specific email, and therefore could miss a crucial piece of information.
Simon also noted that employees can quickly become overwhelmed by the amount of information they're required to process through their inboxes, especially when it's full of confusing industry jargon.
"You'd be shocked at how often people send out jargon [in emails] and expect people to understand," Simon told Business News Daily. "If they don't understand, they make decisions based on that faulty understanding."
Loss of control over external situations. If there's a market or economy-related circumstance that's affecting your business, you owe it to your employees to explain the situation to them before they hear it from sources outside the company. Jennifer Connelly, founder and CEO of public relations firm JCPR, said that some businesses make the mistake of letting external sources control the message their workers and stakeholders receive, instead of becoming a source of news for them.
"When it comes to internal communication, I often see businesses taking a laissez-faire, wait-and-see approach," Connelly said. "This is a huge mistake, one that opens the door to misinformation, rumor and innuendo — all of which pose significant harm to a brand. It is critical for companies to communicate openly and freely, anticipating and answering questions before they are asked."
Communicative silos. Silos occur when people in different roles of a business — whether it's a single department or a whole executive team — focus only on their own objectives, and don't collaborate with others who could provide them with a fresh perspective on the "big picture." While this tends to happen in larger companies, Enon Landenberg, founder and CEO of business technology and consulting company sFBI, said it can happen at smaller businesses, too.
"It's very possible for departments to focus too much on their own work and miss out on the big ideas that only come from collaboration," Landenberg said. "Egos [can prevent] honest discussions about the quality of work, necessary improvements and fresh ideas."
"No matter how large or small the organization, a company won't move forward effectively if the people working there have different priorities," added Marni Mandell, sFBI's head of business development and investor relations.
Overall lack of communication. According to a 2014 About.com survey, the top three reasons employees are dissatisfied with their jobs are all communication-related: lack of direction from management (38 percent), poor communication overall (14 percent) and constant change that's not well communicated (12 percent). This points to a serious issue in the way leaders are circulating information around their company.
"Messages are sent and received whether or not companies choose to communicate," said Tim Eisenhauer, co-founder and president of enterprise social network platform Axero. "Lack of communication can send a strong message, too."
It should come as no surprise, then, that employee engagement can take a serious hit if you're not regularly checking in with your staff.
"Oftentimes, small businesses operate under the assumption that employees know what's going on or, if not, they will figure it out on their own," said Jeff Corbin, founder and CEO of APPrise Mobile, creator of theEMPLOYEEapp. "However, in most instances, this is not the case. [Additionally], most small and medium-sized businesses don't have ... a separate human resources department. As a result, issues involving employee communications and engagement tend to fall to the bottom of the priority list."
Repairing broken communication processes
If these situations sound familiar, you might need to start fixing the way your team shares and discusses information. Our sources recommended taking the following steps to get your business communications back on track.
Limit internal emails. While email may be the easiest way to send a message to your staff, try to keep the number of internal inbox clutter to a minimum. Corbin said emails often go ignored when there's too many of them, so your message is far less likely to come across.
Similarly, Simon noted that "urgent" internal emails, as well as those that go on for several messages, should be avoided at all costs for this reason.
"If it's really urgent, pick up the phone," he said. "[I follow] the three-email rule: After three messages, we talk."
Embrace alternate communication methods. Your company likely uses other forms of communication besides phone and email, but it's important to integrate them into your daily routine and truly embrace them as information-sharing tools. Eisenhauer and Simon agreed that corporate social intranet platforms with features such as built-in chat functions, company updates, notifications and posting capabilities can help improve internal communication, as employees are used to using similarly structured social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn.
Corbin advised including mobile apps and video conferencing to communicate with employees. This not only allows you to adapt to shifting work styles, but also keeps everyone in the loop, whether they're in the office, on the road or working from home.
Encourage frequent communication (in both directions). When you want to improve your internal communications, technology will only get you so far. It's important to lead by example and encourage employees to open up, both to you and to one another.
"Executives need to maintain an open dialogue with their teams, sharing as much information as possible and encouraging employees to voice concerns or questions," Connelly said. "Maintaining clear lines of communication is one of the best ways to build a trusted, engaged and dedicated workforce."
"Make yourself available for conversations ... and encourage questions," Landenberg added. "That kind of behavior sets the tone for the whole business, one where employees feel comfortable reaching out to each other."
Eisenhauer reminded employers to show that they value the staff's input by truly listening to them.
"Consider ... the kind of culture you want your business to have," he said. "It's vitally important to give employees a way to voice their opinions. Business leaders should never assume that they know what their employees think — instead, they should provide a way for employees to tell them."