Scene One: The marketing department sends out a promotional campaign to a customer who reacts angrily because they already purchased the product in question.  One of the marketers approaches the sales rep assigned to the customer, asking, “Why didn’t you say something?”

Scene Two: The sales team’s manager realizes there’s no way the revenue target that was put in the forecast will be achieved, but keeps quiet, hoping for a miracle. When that doesn’t transpire, the CEO is outraged: “I should have been informed,” she says. 

Scene Three: The entire customer service team comes into work and discovers the existing platform they’ve been using to manage questions and complaints has been replaced by something else. Only one of the agents has the courage to tell the manager what everyone else is thinking: “A little notice would have been nice.”

There are countless other scenes that could be added to this story, but they would all be similar in nature. Strong communication is a challenge in almost every company, from the largest enterprise to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). 

Often the culprit is a set of assumptions one or more people have relied upon to guide their day-to-day activities: 

  • They assumed someone working in another department (or even on the same team) already knew the details of a project or a customer situation.
  • They assumed the other person or group didn’t need to know about the details of the project or customer situation.
  • They had planned on communicating what was necessary for the good of the company — at some point, when they weren’t quite so busy. 

There are also situations where employees willfully neglect to communicate with each other. This is sometimes based on a desire to undermine someone else’s authority, to circumvent a policy or simply because they were unsure of how the other party would react. 

A successful company can’t afford to have these kinds of communication breakdowns, however. They waste people’s time. They can also lead to errors that disappoint or frustrate customers, which can cost the company money. 

Worst of all, poor internal communication makes people unhappy about working for the company. It might be considered a soft skill, but it’s a very valuable one to cultivate among every single person on your payroll.

Get your employee experience back on track by: 

1. Clarifying your policies: 

Sometimes you need to have things written down so there’s no excuse for not knowing any better — or for disobeying the rules. 

Who needs to talk to whom when a customer complaint is escalated? What about when a customer asks for preferred pricing or some other deviation from the norm? If a project is not going to be finished on time or threatens to go over budget, who needs to get into a room or on a call to figure out a rescue plan?

These details are an important part of leading a company. Once your policies have been spelled out and documented, include them in an employee handbook, on an intranet or any other collaboration hubs you have in place. 

2.  Scheduling check-ins

People often say they don’t like meetings, but what they mean is they don’t like meetings that are badly run. 

You have to make time on the calendar to bring people together. This not only includes people on the same team but cross-functional gatherings. Managers should have a regular check-in or one-on-one with employees as appropriate. 

These meetings don’t have to be long. They should be well-organized and end with action items. They are core, however, to ensuring communication is an ongoing practice within the company. 

3. Expanding your toolset

You won’t always be able to get someone on the phone. They might not be at their desk when you send an email. Getting everyone in a boardroom may not be feasible right now. 

Beyond the benefits they bring in terms of managing the customer experience from anywhere, mobile technologies can also be a vital link between those trying to improve internal communication. 

Discuss the best way to use texting or other messaging apps to keep everyone on the same page. Explore enterprise social networking tools that are quick and easy to use. Identify the platforms, like a CRM, that could offer a centralized hub for key pieces of information multiple stakeholders need to do their jobs. 

4. Identifying the time tunnels

Everyone has times when they’re more heads-down than others. Trying to get responses from the sales team might be tough if you reach out near the end of the quarter, when everyone’s trying to make their quota. The marketing team might be similarly in its own world while planning the sales kick-off or launching a campaign. 

There might be other departments who are less communicative because it’s the holiday season and many team members are away for vacation. When a big project is underway at the company, meanwhile, it can be hard to get those working on it to talk about more day-to-day issues. 

We all have our own schedules to manage, but as a leader you need to be aware of when communication failures are likely to spike. That way, you can prevent bigger problems from surfacing. 

5. Periodically reassessing

You don’t usually hear anyone describing their team or their company as having perfected internal communication. That’s not a very realistic goal. Instead, use feedback mechanisms such as employee surveys or polls on your intranet to get a sense of where communication breakdowns are happening. 

The more you can recognize the issues — and the more employees feel comfortable about bringing them forward — the degree to which you can improve internal communication will go up exponentially. 

As you make progress, don’t forget to share that with the team too! Treat communication among employees as a key performance indicator (KPI) across the company, and always try to talk about it as a component of what makes your company successful.