Oswald Letter

And the Survey Says . . . We Have a Problem

The results of a recent survey of our employees here at BLR are in and, frankly, I’m concerned.

You see, our survey contained 27 statements about our work environment. The employees were asked whether they agreed with each statement and how strongly they agree or disagree with it. The statements covered individual, departmental, and company-wide items such as performance feedback, recognition, communication, personal development, and fairness.

The results from one of the 27 statements stood out like a sore thumb to me. To the statement, “There is adequate communication between departments regarding changes or decisions that affect employees,” only 41.6% of our employees agreed — 41.6%! That’s terrible.

In case you’re wondering, 44.1% disagreed with the statement and 14.3% were neutral. That means more people think that communication between departments is inadequate than adequate. Disappointing to say the least.

But facts are facts: Nearly 6 out of 10 employees surveyed said we’re not communicating effectively between departments. Something has to change.

I’ve always been a big believer in open and informal communication. I tell everyone in our organization that the only thing I won’t disclose is someone’s compensation. Everything else is fair game. Ask away!

I also think informal communication beats formal. That is, I prefer open dialogue over structured, top-down communication. I figure let’s get everyone talking. Who knows better what’s going on in the company than those who are doing it?

But, obviously, that’s not working. People feel uninformed. Maybe it’s a case of, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”  What would that make this? You can encourage people to communicate, but you can’t make them talk?

Regardless, we have a problem and we need to get it fixed. My guess is that this is less a sin of commission and more one of omission. People aren’t intentionally setting out to keep information from their coworkers, they just don’t think about it. They’re so focused on their own job and what needs to get done, that they don’t think about others in the organization who need to know about it.

And, it’s one thing to consider others in your own department (nearly two-thirds of our people agree that their department communicates effectively), because you work with them daily. But those people in other departments whom you see less frequently and you have a lesser understanding of what they need to know, well, they just don’t cross your mind.

Now, am I being an optimist to believe that the lack of communication is not because of intentional stonewalling and information hoarding? Maybe, but I think it’s true.

Here’s my fear. When I ask about the lack of communication between departments (and I will ask!), I’m going to hear this common refrain, “Our department communicates with other departments, but we’re the only ones.” In other words, “It’s not us, it’s them.”

You see, no one thinks they are the cause for a lack of communication. So, like most things, it needs to start at the top. I need to make sure that I’m communicating effectively what’s going on in the company. If I see something someone in another department might need to know, it’s up to me to speak up. The same goes for our executives. It’s their departments that aren’t communicating with one another. They need to work to remedy this situation. And so forth down the line.

So how do I plan to fix this problem in our company? By communicating! Here are the steps I think we need to take to fix it:

  1. Get everyone to admit we have a problem. Of course, with the data I have from our employee survey, it shouldn’t be too hard. Only 41.6% of our employees feel we have adequate communication between departments. What more do I need to say? Well, to foster good communication I’ll think of something — many things to say. We need to pay attention to this.
  2. Convince everyone that all of us are contributing to this problem. This isn’t a “them” problem, it’s a “we” problem. No finger pointing, no blame game. Everyone gets to accept responsibility starting with me.
  3. Develop more formal lines of communication. I said earlier that I’m a big fan of informal communication, but that’s not working right now. I need to rethink how we communicate to get people the information they need to do their jobs.
  4. Measure the effectiveness of what we develop. First of all, what gets measured gets done. But, just as important, we won’t get it right the first time. To know how we’re doing, we need to measure it.
  5. Tweak and repeat. With the new information in hand, we’ll need to tweak what we’ve done and then measure again. And we’ll need to keep doing this until we raise our scores to a level that meets our expectations. A perfect 10 would be nice, but probably unattainable. Whatever it is, it ought to be pretty high! I want everyone to feel like they’re informed.

It doesn’t seem all too hard, does it? Well, it will be, but we’re going to do it anyway. We can’t be successful if people in our organization don’t feel like they’re informed. It just won’t work. So I’m making it my personal mission to raise our score — and with it I hope the entire organization will improve with it.

Wish me luck!