Is Communication Part Of The Business Plan?

All behavior communicates something. In addition to talking, making presentations, writing memos, newsletters, all of which are verbally, there is the entire realm of nonverbal communication, such as body language, intonation and expression, which may communicate much more than words do about attitude, motivation, disposition and relationship.

It might seem like an odd question. We usually think of finance, production, marketing, sales and HR as essential to a business plan. Also, if we think of communication, it is usually in terms of advertising, media, promotions and selling. As for internal communication, we assume it will just happen. After all, we talk to each other, don't we? We hold meetings, luncheons, see each other every day and talk business. So we're communicating, right?

In one sense, it is right. All behavior communicates something. In addition to talking, making presentations, writing memos, newsletters, all of which are verbally, there is the entire realm of nonverbal communication, such as body language, intonation and expression, which may communicate much more than words do about attitude, motivation, disposition and relationship. For example, we have all had the experience of a co-worker who never talks to us? Does that mean he isn't communicating with you? Probably not. The avoidance may be communicating "I don't like you" or "I'm afraid of you," or "Stay out of my way." Ignoring these "meta-messages" in your family business can impair relationships, lower productivity and diminish the bottom line. In a companion piece, Keith Baldwin of Baldwin-Gilman Associates give two pertinent examples. In one, siblings are not communicating with each other about new hires, until the last minute—a costly avoidance. One wonders about this communication gap. Does it affect other issues? How long has it been there, and what's behind it? Without clarification, it will surely happen again. In another, a hiring meeting generated a "cacophony of inharmonious noise"—meaning surely that dormant issue could only find "venting" in a meeting ostensibly devoted to a business matter. One wonders how often hidden feelings or issues affect business decisions in this company. In these instances, poor partial patterns of communication almost hi-jacked business decisions.

Internal communication in a family business is like electricity in a motor—without it, it doesn't run. With short circuits, lack of connectivity, or impedance (gaps), it doesn't run well. We know that outstanding business leaders display high intelligence and high emotional intelligence. They also have to be excellent communicators and know how to enhance corporate-wide communication—the electricity that turns the engines. We might consider adding communications quotient as an essential leadership trait.

Under such a leader, communication excellence in family business will adopt policies and procedures that ensure a high communication quotient—that is, a fully engaged and fully communicating workforce. Including this in the business plan ensures that communication becomes mission-critical for your business. Suggestions for making this happen include the following:

1. This company knows that open, engaged, flexible and non-judgmental communication among employees, managers and family owners is essential for maximum market impact and success. It is part of our business plan to regularly take the pulse of the communication effectiveness.

2. To make communication excellence a high priority, we implement the following procedures to enhance communication on a regular basis:

a. Monthly family meetings with open agendas to encourage brain storming and sharing of experience and perspective.

b. Periodic staff and team meetings focused on how well communication is occurring and how it can be improved.

c. We manage disagreements actively. People in a disagreement can always find something to agree on, even if it is the date and time for a follow-up discussion. Never end a talk without setting a time to continue the dialogue. Disagreement is commonplace in families and businesses, but it is not the enemy. Disengagement is the culprit.

3. We encourage "perception checks" when you suspect trouble in a relationship. We, as humans, quickly develop perceptions of others and "read" their behavior to mean this or that. When unchecked, these perceptions become biases, and soon the relationship is off track. If you feel disliked, avoided or criticized by a co-worker, check it out early to avoid build-up of bad feeling. Your co-worker will be impressed that the relationship is important to you, and you've stuck your neck out to improve it.

4. We value listening skills. To paraphrase an honored maxim, "It is more blessed to listen than to speak." Active, accurate listening skills are a balm to any troubled relationship. When having an important conversation, do not multitask. Stay completely engaged. Clear distraction from you mind, focus on what's being said and how it's being said.

5. Our performance evaluations include an assessment of our employee's communication effectiveness.

These steps are simple. Implementing them will begin a process of enhancing communication. The process itself will illuminate and may prevent derailment of mission-critical objectives.

Reprinted with permission from The Family Business Report sponsored by the Goering Center at the University of Cincinnati College of Business Administration.