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Is your "Communications Grid" letting you down?
8 ways to build the "grid" you need to compete
(Note: a slightly different version of this article was published in the Growth Guide supplement to the Mpls/St. Paul Business Journal)
All your great ideas about winning customers, improving efficiency, and beating the competition are only as good as their execution by other people.
As your business grows, do you find your best laid plans going astray at the front lines, where employees work with customers and suppliers? This gap between strategic plans and actual practices could mean your “communications grid” needs some attention.
What is a "Communications Grid"?
From time to time, large sections of this country have plunged into darkness when the "grid" that carries electricity to their regions failed. Remember, power plants were still pumping out electricity, but that power didn't reach homes and businesses.
If your key strategies and great ideas never seem to reach front line employees — and thus your customers — your communications grid may be costing you opportunities. (The “grid” can include memos, employee meetings, media and intranet content, newsletters, training, and any tool you use to reach staff.)
As your company grows, and you adapt to changes in your markets and business environment, you become more and more dependent on getting people far away from you, either organizationally or geographically, to do things the way you would do them. A strong communications grid is an investment you can't afford to overlook.
8 tips to make sure you don't leave your employees,
and your customers, in the dark:
- Make grid maintenance an explicit task. A small organization can manage internal communications on an ad hoc basis. But when that's not working anymore, you need to pay some deliberate attention to spreading your ideas throughout the company.
- Assign resources and accountability. Nothing important can be done in anyone’s “spare time”. After all, in a rapidly growing company, we all have more than enough to do, and less than we need to do it. If it isn't anybody's fault when the grid fails, you can count on it failing most of the time.
- Pay attention to the "last mile". If you've got a great system for keeping your department and regional managers in the loop, but you have no idea how your message gets from there to the individual employee, your communications grid needs work.
- Think about the small end of the communications funnel. Building more power plants won't prevent a grid failure. Trying to fix communications failures by pumping more memos and 'initiatives' into your grid just jams things up, making it even harder for people at the other end to know what's really important. Concentrate on getting a few fundamental ideas to everyone in the organization.
- Integrate communications planning into major initiatives. When you launch a new product or service, you plan your marketing effort to customers as you develop the product itself. Do you plan internal communications to employees who deliver the product or service at the same time? If you can't answer "yes", you're throwing away a chance to enhance the efficiency and impact of your launch.
- Listen. Go to the front lines and find out where they get their information, what they wish they knew, and what they throw away. Two-way communication can recreate the company spirit and common vision of a much smaller organization.
- Work on the grid even when times are tough. When you have to work harder to maintain profits, employees who are aligned with your strategic goals and the corporate culture are your greatest asset. Cutting communication channels is easy, but it will hurt your business.
- Adapt to changing conditions. You need to get the right information to the right places. What is “right” changes as your markets, products, services, and customers change. Set aside the time, resources, and functional responsibility to adapt to new conditions.
© 2004 Will Kenny
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