Communication is the Key

Over the last few months, I have dealt with a variety of issues that either could have been avoided or improved with better communication. I have seen it be an issue in marriages, family relationships, work settings, church groups, and basically any other situation where two or more people are involved. Communication is essential in every setting and is an essential element for any leader to possess in order to have influence.

When we think of communication in a plant setting, we often just refer to plantwide meetings and go check the box that we have done our job communicating. I want to give you a much different view of communication and broaden it to more of a system and not just a check the box meeting. Here’s what I mean:

To communicate broadly, facility wide/large group meetings are fine. Consider these things:
1. How often should be dictated by what needs to be conveyed to the group. I would suggest monthly or every other month.
2. Length: No more than 30 minutes or the attendees lose attention.
3. Timing: At the beginning of a shift, not the end when they are ready to go home or being held over on overtime.
4. Overtime or not: Let your current situation dictate whether you shut down for the meeting or schedule OT. Don’t add excessive OT if not needed, but don’t schedule on straight time and then push yourself into weekend work.
5. Focus: You want to think of these meetings as informative announcements and no more than 3 key messages you want people to leave with. Don’t over use slides, but use them to reinforce key messages and to help clarify key messages. Keep charts simple if you use charts. The presenter needs to have credibility with the audience and will do the majority of talking. Questions are for clarification only in these meetings.
6. Suggestions: If you can develop a visual system in the plant to communicate key metrics, you don’t have to spend much time in plantwide meetings on these items. Again, keep metrics to 2 or 3 and be sure everyone knows how they impact those 2 or 3 key drivers.

To communicate with interactive dialogue with team members, roundtable discussions of 10 or fewer folks around a meal are ideal.
1. Schedule a couple of these a month with different shift times to ensure that everyone has a chance to attend one or two per year.
2. Length: Around 30 minutes or so with meal provided (ready when team members arrive).
3. Focus: Interactive discussion time where team members can bring up topics (getting those ahead of time is good) for discussion. No charts or key announcements. These sessions are focused on what the team members want to talk about. Leader can convey key focus areas, but needs to stay focused on those in attendance and keep the discussion open.

To communicate direct employee feedback and hear directly from employee on concerns or ideas, one to one sessions are ideal.
1. Normal one to one schedule with direct reports are the plan, but seldom do we really get the benefit from these discussions. Yes, the leader needs to give feedback, but leaders also need to be asking the right questions and listening well. We can learn a lot in these sessions.
2. One level removed one to ones. Facility or department leaders taking the time to meet with others in the plant beyond direct reports can be very beneficial as well.

To communicate progress on key metrics/initiatives, consider how you can put a scoreboard in your plant that helps everyone see/know if we are winning or not with key focus items.
1. Again, just 2 or 3 things that drive success. Clearly presented and easy to identify with from all levels of the plant.
2. Keep it current. Don’t halfway maintain it and expect it to be trusted or effective.

That’s just a few ideas on how to think communication systems and not just stuff we do to convey information from time to time. Think of it as an organized system of communicating with our folks with the different forms having different purposes. I will go this far with these next few statements:
1. You can’t lead effectively if you don’t communicate effectively….can’t happen.
2. If you want engagement, communicate better. You don’t need an engagement plan, you need to communicate better! Now to say that more politically correct, your engagement plan needs to involve communicating more effectively.

Communication is a key lever to leading others!

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