How is Communication in a Continuous Improvement Culture?

Poor communication affects productivity, quality, customer experience, and costs money.  According to David Grossman, as reported in his article The Cost of Poor Communications, the total estimated cost of employee misunderstanding among 400 surveyed corporations in the U.S. and U.K. is $37 billion.  On top of that, many companies spend a good chunk of money every year in communication training.   If poor communication is so critical for the successful operation of any business, can you imagine how critical it is when you are trying to change the culture?  

Clarity of purpose and transparency are critical elements of the lean culture, effective communication is imperative.  To be able to inspire people with a shared vision of the future that the company wants to build using continuous improvement, you need clarity of purpose.  Everybody needs to know and understand how their daily work supports the company’s strategic vision.  To achieve the dramatic change from traditional to a continuous improvement culture, people need to trust.  Trust grows within the organization when transparency exists, and people receive the information they need.  For this, effective communication is an essential ingredient.

As a leader, your job is to communicate, 80% of the time you are communicating instructions, expectations, policies, news, standards, and others.  A leader in a continuous improvement culture is expected to be a role model and a teacher, which are forms of communication.

If you search for effective communication, you will find a lot of resources offering different characteristics and ways to achieve it.  One thing that I learned through my career is that you need to know when and where or how to communicate and to follow the three C’s of effective communication.

Know your audience

One of the best ways to quickly improve the effectiveness of your communication is to adapt your communication style to match your team member’s styles.  Who are you going to communicate with?  You need to know his or her communication style, how do they like to receive the information and the level of detail.  Adapt your vocabulary and examples used to the receiver.  Remember that not everybody understands the same kind of jargon.

Choose the best time to start your conversation.  Do not try to discuss something with a person who is in the middle of an important task.  Show respect, ask for a good time to talk.  Where the communication takes place is also influential. You don’t need a meeting for everything, sometimes a short conversation over a coffee is more than enough.  Other times an email is ok, but always remember that face to face communication is better.  If you choose to send a written communication schedule a follow-up conversation to ensure the message gets through as intended.

The three C’s of effective communication

All types of communication need to have at least these three basic characteristics, clarity, collaboration, and consistency.  

Communication has to be clear and simple, avoid fancy words if they are not critical to convey the message.  It has to be complete but concise to prevent misunderstanding and gives people the information they need.  

Effective communication is a collaborative process, in which two or more people contribute to the talking subject.  Communication is a two-way process where both parties send and receive information.  If you talk without expecting any interaction from the individual(s) you are talking with, you are making an announcement not communicating.  Don’t try to dominate the conversation, give other people a chance to express themselves.

Be consistent, commit to your message and act the same way always.  When your words and actions do not match, you lose trust, and credibility.  

Continuous improvement and lean need effective communication for its success.  Lean is a people-centric system, which means that the way you treat and communicate with the people is critical for success.  In continuous improvement, we want to make the standards and the deviation from them, visible.  We want to communicate the standards and performance against them.  5S, visual management, visual displays, kanban, and others are forms of communication.  They are tools to ensure transparency and keep the clarity of purpose by making the information and standards visible.  

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