Following on from last month’s blog, I was trawling through some old HBR articles looking for more thoughts on the subject of clarity in business. The article I found was a short story by a director of a school of design who had experimented with blogging to improve the communication with the people at the school.
His learning, after a year of blogging, was very clear. In fact, you might think it’s a statement of the obvious. The lesson: there is a massive difference between transparency and clarity. Transparency = showing people the facts; Clarity is about understanding the facts. The author of the article initially thought that letting others see more would logically lead to better communication and understanding. He learnt that helping people to understand more was what he was actually looking for.
His resolution for his second year of experimenting with communication was to try to use social media to engage in two-way communication but more importantly, he vowed to do more walking and talking to people around the campus.
Imagine taking the author’s learning into a business setting more like what you are used to. An SME where you are the boss or manager. You probably want the folk who work for you to give more to the business – more discretionary effort: improving how the business works; acting more like a joined-up team; following processes consistently. So don’t write blogs, put up posters, send emails to the workforce with instructions or statements. Follow the lead of the author: go out onto the shop floor, talk to staff 1-2-1, organise team briefings or tool-box talks on a relevant subject.
Maybe the best way to explain this is with a client I worked with a few years ago. The boss was frustrated that the shop floor was a mess, staff didn’t follow health and safety processes, product quality was not consistent and so on. He felt like “reading the riot act” to them and getting rid of the “trouble-makers”. Instead, we brought in the supervisors and talked about how the business could do more if we could make better products in a better way. This debate took a few sessions with lots of discussions and listening. A significant trigger to take action was an accident on the shop floor – one of the operators cut their hand badly during a machine set up they were doing on their own – it was meant to be a two-person job.
The end result was that one of the supervisors volunteered to join the boss in running a tool-box talk. The talk was only about health and safety, linking back to the accident and asking staff how everybody could work safer. Again there was a lot of discussion and questions (including some heated conversations!!). Yet within a few weeks and several tool-box talks, the factory started to look tidier, staff wore seat belts on the fork-lift truck, supervisors coached operators on procedures etc. Since then the weekly tool-box talks have continued but always been focused on specific subjects. That has stopped the talks becoming a talking-shop.
Another product of this change is that the boss is less stressed and has been spending more time bringing in more business and investment, it’s a win-win situation! The moral of the story? It’s good to talk!
If you would like to find out more about getting clarity in your business, download my free eBook which talks about the subject in more detail and offers practical business advice.