Business Communications

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As the executive vice president/partner of Flex HR, Inc., a scaleable human resources management consulting firm, for over 5 years, I have seen business dysfunction happen due to a number of reasons. Fierce competition, mismanagement, a new owner or CEO, and economic impact are examples. While these are all different reasons, one thing is common to all: common sense, or the lack of it.

In any normal organization, senior management sets the tone. The way it sets the tone is what makes the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful organization. Usually, when businesses are in initial stages, senior management is involved in operations, making sure the businesses' messages get across. At some point, businesses might get malaise in the form of management miscommunication. If front-line employees cannot name the CEO's name, the business message and core values will surely not filter to the customer. As with every malaise, it is better to prevent it before it happens. There are five key concepts managers need to implement in order to avoid falling into the miscommunication pitfall:
  • Communicating with customers and employees clearly and frequently: While most managers know that the client is the most important person in the organization, some managers forget that the way to communicate with the client is via the employee. Miscommunication with employees ensures miscommunication with customers, and a disgruntled employee guarantees a disgruntled customer.

  • Using a strategic plan to manage the business: Many businesses start by having strategic business plans. Such plans are among the rudiments of establishing businesses. Problems arise, however, when managers deviate from the plans, forgetting about them and about the underlying ideas of the businesses. Usually this happens due to overloads of work events that tie managers to daily routines, disabling them from seeing the big pictures.

  • Holding people accountable and following up on problems: Managers should empower their direct reports. By giving people, either low-level managers or front-line employees, authority, managers hold them accountable, thus demanding results and getting constant feedback. This approach, as opposed to the all-knowing manager approach, creates better communication, better employee satisfaction, and eventually happier customers.

  • Be amenable to the use of coaching techniques to address issues: Managers, although bright and savvy, sometimes might get in too deep in the business' mundane activities, up to the point where they cannot see the forest for the trees. This is a precarious situation because supposedly everything is OK, and yet the business might be going downhill. By allowing outside agents to critique the business, managers can often gain insights and ideas that only a fresh pair of eyes can bring. Allowing a trained coach to lead the business into success might be a smart move.
Yet, despite taking the aforementioned steps, every organization will suffer from a bad time, a sales decrease, or simply not fulfilling the business' potential. It is very important to understand and recognize the dysfunction as early as possible to prevent great losses. The following indicators are the ones that should warn the manager of business dysfunction:
  • The business is not achieving the desired results or is achieving them at too high a price: All managers should be familiar with the concept of Pyrrhic victory and understand that not every victory is a good victory for the business. If it takes the business too many resources to achieve a result, it might be a sign of something wrong that calls for attention.

  • Nothing happens without the leader's input or involvement: The strategy of empowering has tremendous impact on any business' success. If the organization cannot carry out procedures without the CEO's approval, that might indicate a dysfunction, probably in the form of having too-weak managers.

  • Simple decisions cannot be made easily: As businesses fight for every customer, managers should strive to automate as many of the mundane decisions as possible. If decisions that are supposed to be easy and fast become cumbersome and slow, that is an indicator of a business dysfunction.

  • Nobody can articulate the organization's mission or everyone articulates a different mission: As trivial as it seems, it is always striking to notice how many companies are remiss in instilling this core knowledge in their employees. The business' mission should not only be a framed sign on the wall-it should serve as the goal for which employees strive when making decisions and engaging with customers. The mission should be concise and memorable so that every employee can understand and recite it.

  • Different groups often work on solving the same problems without coordination: With time being one of the most valuable resources a firm has, having groups working with no coordination is businesses' stealth murderer. Dysfunction in leading groups calls for major attention. Fortunately, many aids are available for coordinating groups; intra-net tools are a leading trend.

  • Meetings are dreaded and considered a waste of time because real issues are not addressed: Meetings are a powerful managerial tool. Getting managers together in the same room for a substantial amount of time should yield tangible results-actions, recommendations, strategies, etc. If meetings are considered a waste of time by the participating members, that means they are a waste of time. This business dysfunction might be solved by having the CEO conduct shorter, specific meetings with the relevant mangers each time. Meetings should have an agenda that is distributed well in advance of the meeting. That way, the participating members are expected, and able, to come with ideas and thoughts instead of being surprised at the meeting and needing time to think.

  • The team generates good ideas, but few, if any, are implemented: In such a case, a general manager should analyze the processes that lead to implementation of a decision. The manager should look for a pattern; for example, perhaps it is a specific department that holds decisions back. Scrutiny of the organizational process must also take place, and if the need arises, an organizational change might be required.
Strategies for avoiding dysfunction and strategies for identifying dysfunction all have one thing in common: common sense. At times, management gets so caught up in buzzwords and processes that it forgets to use plain sense to make decisions. By and large, the key to a well-functioning organization is common sense accompanied with open, two-way communication among all levels of the organization.

About the Author

Barry Flink is executive vice president/partner of Flex HR, Inc., offering human resources consulting and management, executive coaching and mentoring, management of stock options plans, and more. With academic training and up to 36 years of experience, he is an expert in employee relations, employment law, labor relations, transfer/relocation management, travel management (from experience in the hospitality and transportation industries), and compensation management. He served in a number of executive positions for Greyhound/Dial Corporation, Westin Hotels & Resorts, Holiday Inns Worldwide, and BellSouth Corporation. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Georgia Tech with a double major in management and psychology and a minor in urban sociology. He is a visiting professor of management at Georgia Tech and has served on the board of directors of both Georgia Tech's Dupree College of Management and Kennesaw State University's Coles College of Business. He has served as a guest lecturer at 14 major universities in the U.S. and Canada and has published articles in several influential human resources journals.
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