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Seven Essential Principles of Effective Communication

In some call centers, you can feel the energy as soon as you walk in the door. It takes many forms: pride of workmanship, enthusiasm, a feeling of community, commitment and the willingness to make the "extra effort." The call center "clicks." Everybody knows what the mission is; everybody is pulling in the same direction. While there are a myriad of factors that go into creating this sort of environment, effective communication always plays a central role. Communication creates meaning and direction for people. Organizations of all types depend on the existence of what Warren Bennis, noted leadership expert, calls "shared meanings and interpretations of reality," which facilitate coordinated action. When good communication is lacking, the symptoms are predictable: conflicting objectives, unclear values, misunderstandings, lack of coordination, confusion, low morale and people doing the bare minimum required. Although cultures and communication styles vary, there are predictable and notable principles that I've noticed are consistently present among highvalue call centers. Among the most important are:

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

Commit to keeping people in the know Cultivate a Supporting Culture Establish appropriate communication tools Develop formal and informal channels of communication Ensure that structure and policies support communication Listen actively and regularly Don't overdo it Let's look at each, in turn. 1 .Commit to keeping people in the know.

Leaders of high-performance organizations are predisposed to keeping their people in the know. They actively share both good news and bad. This minimizes the rumor mill, which hinders effective, accurate communication. It also contributes to an environment of trust. It sounds simple, but just making a commitment is the first step. I had a manager tell me recently that she decided to make great communication a top priority and that it's working wonders for productivity and clarity in the organization. Peter Senge, who popularized the notion of the learning organization in his popular book, The Fifth Discipline , described a place "where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together." Shared information is the fundamental ingredient in organizational learning and learning both contributes to and is dependent on effective communication. Consistently communicate progress on projects and objectives. Hazy objectives and vaguely defined tasks will destroy productivity and morale. The objectives of teams and individuals as well as the call center itself should be as concrete as possible. Projects should have clearly defined milestones, with beginning and ending points. For projects or long-term objectives, tools such as Gantt charts and flow charts can be useful for identifying resources required, showing the interrelated nature of individual tasks and tracking progress. They give focus to the mission of the workgroup and can help address questions such as: Where are we? How far have we come? What's next? They should be updated and distributed as often as something substantial changes in the ongoing direction and plans.

2. Cultivate a Supporting Culture.

Culture the inveterate principles or values of the organization tends to guide behavior and can either support and further, or, as some have learned the hard way, ruin effective communication. Unfortunately, there's no guaranteed formula for creating a supporting culture. But many call center managers agree that shaping the culture of the organization is a primary leadership responsibility. They do

not believe that culture should be left to chance. As a result, they spend an inordinate amount of time understanding the organization and the people who are part of it. One of the most distinguishable aspects of a positive culture is that the vision and mission are well known and understood. Why does the call center exist? What is it working to achieve? What's in it for customers and for the organization? What's in it for employees? Take steps to build employee commitment to the vision. This should include soliciting input from employees as the vision is being developed, publishing the vision widely, and yep, using it to guide tactical, day-to-day decisions.

3. Establish appropriate communication tools.

A prerequisite to an environment in which communication thrives is that individuals and teams have compatible and capable communications technologies. The usual channels apply telephone, voice mail, e-mail, intranet, instant messaging, and collaboration and conferencing tools offer enormous potential if they are available and compatible across the organization. Further and this is so simple but so effective create directories (on-line, print, perhaps both) of contact information for your call center and cross-functional teams. This provides necessary information, and it creates symbolism that reinforces communication and camaraderie. The usual cautions apply e.g., e-mail is popular communication tool, but it does not eliminate the need for face-to-face communication, especially for sensitive subjects, performance reviews or bad news. An in-person meeting, or a telephone or video conference, will allow the kind of immediate interaction that can prevent a problem from becoming even more serious and emotionally charged.

4. Develop formal and informal channels of communication.

Effective leaders cultivate both formal and informal channels of communication. The communication formats can include newsletters, meetings, visual displays, email, voicemail, posters, intranets and informal "hallway meetings." But the mission and values being communicated remain consistent. As Bennis puts it, " based on predictability. The truth is that we trust people who are predictable, whose positions are known and who keep at it; leaders who are trusted make themselves known, make their positions clear." One of the common formal means of communication between front-line workers and management is employee satisfaction surveys. The best call centers track results and monitor trends to ensure continuous improvement. Survey results are communicated back to employees, and teams are often formed to address specific problems that are identified in the surveys. The progress towards resolving the problem is then tracked and communicated.

5. Ensure that structure and policies support communication.

The organization's structure defines the alignment of roles and responsibilities for business units, departments and individuals. In general, flatter, more collaborative organizations help foster an environment in which trust and communication flourish. Policies and procedures can also impact trust and communication. For example, monitoring and coaching programs that truly contribute to the growth and well being of individuals and the organization help to build trust and encourage communication. Leading call centers have also cultivated a systematic, collaborative approach to call center workload planning. This process generally includes forecasting, staffing, scheduling, budgeting and related activities. Systematic planning contributes to effective communication in several ways. It creates a body of information that wouldn't otherwise be available, e.g., here's our call load pattern and, therefore, why the schedules are structured as they are. It also forces people to look into the future and see their work in the context of a larger framework. Perhaps most important, formal planning requires

communication about values, on issues such as resource allocations, budgeting and workload priorities.

6. Listen actively and regularly.

Listening encourages communication. When leaders listen to those around them, they give others the opportunity to contribute ideas, which creates a sense of ownership. Further, listening encourages diverse perspectives, enables individuals to grow and creates community within the organization. Active listening enables a culture that brings out the best in people. Listening also benefits leadership directly. There is a common myth that great leaders create compelling visions from an inner source that others don't have. But many studies on the subjects of leadership and strategy have shown the visions of some of history's greatest leaders often came from others. The leaders may have selected the best vision to focus on, shaped it and communicated it to others in a compelling way, but they rarely originated the vision.

7. Don't overdo it.

Experienced leaders are aware of an interesting paradox: too much communicating inhibits effective communication. There is an optimal level of communication beyond which more communication becomes counterproductive. Too many meetings, memos, conferences, e-mail messages and on-the-fly discussions may be symptoms of weaknesses in plans and processes. I sometimes go sailing with racing crews in my hometown of Annapolis, Maryland. I'm not proficient at sailing yet, and need instruction but I've noticed with a certain amount of awe that the most effective crews communicate among themselves with head nods, hand signals, and one or two word instructions. Among less experienced crews, the yelling back and forth is much more prevalent. With better tools, more focused training and appropriate levels of empowerment, the need for excessive real-time communicating can be avoided because the communication is built into individual understanding and established processes. And a test of all this can you go on vacation without checking in (at least regularly)? That's a sign that you've probably built an organization that's working. (And you need that vacation!)

Effective communication is inseparable from effective leadership leaders are only as effective as their ability to communicate. Effective communication results in a shared understanding of what's most important. When people are aligned behind a set of compelling values, enthusiasm, commitment and significant productivity tend to follow. Seven Essential Principles of Effective Communication Download this Document for Free Print Mobile Collections Report Document Info and Rating communication Follow