As a business owner, you dedicate much of your time to communicating with your clients. While this is crucial for your business, equally important is communicating with your employees. Internal communication touches every aspect of your business from announcing the onboarding of a new client, to introducing a new product to your business line. No matter the size, industry, or type of company you own, I recommend having an internal communications process embedded in everything you do.
An internal communications process allows for the exchange of information between all members of your organization, which will save you time and money. In fact, companies with effective internal communications processes experience 47% higher total returns than those that are not effective at communicating.
I’ve outlined below 3 key elements to help you establish an effective internal communications process.
- Have the Right Mechanisms in Place to Keep Employees Informed
Your internal communication mechanisms must be strategic, in order to be targeted and the most beneficial. Consider your company’s current mechanisms, from the methods of communication it uses, to the way your company engages with and seeks feedback from your staff, to the way it measures if the mechanism is successful and identifies any issues for future change.
Choosing what mechanisms to use depends on your size and budget. If your company has multiple locations, you may decide to invest in passive, large-scale communication options to disseminate information. Creating an intranet (a private network only available to a company’s staff) is one great option. If your business is smaller, consider using more conventional communication channels such as an internal newsletter, e-blast, Director’s blog, or notice board. I have even seen some companies benefit from using social networking sites as their primary means of internal communication. More directed options could include Breakfast Briefs for front-line staff, a monthly Director Communications Day, scheduled Director Q&A drop-ins, or Lunch & Learns.
No matter what mechanism(s) you choose, the bottom line is that employees have access to a platform where they can receive important company information so they stay abreast of the information they need to do their job.
- Creating a Two-Way Loop
Having great communication mechanisms in place is vital, but ensuring that they consistently generate engagement between management and employees is a key step. It is imperative that business owners and managers actively respond to feedback received and ensure a loop is created, as opposed to a top-down form of communication. By acting on the honest feedback reported by employees encourages more of the same – staff telling it “like it is”.
- Measuring the Mechanisms
To ensure that the communication mechanisms you choose are working effectively, incorporating measurement indicators, such as scheduled weekly face-to-face meetings with actionable items reported for follow-up, anonymous employee surveys offered at quarterly or annual company all-staff meetings, or through specific activity surveys through the intranet, could help identify gaps, what is or isn’t working, and what methods of communication work best for your employees.
Regardless of which avenues you choose, the main goal is to ensure employees have several effective paths available to them where they can communicate with senior management and feel heard.
Communicating with your employees is essential for the productivity of your business. Does your company have an internal communications process in place?
Although I am not a marketer, as a business advisor I am often asked what are the most effective ways to market a company. Business owners tend to ask me what tactics they should use to gain the ‘best’ and ‘fastest’ results. My advice is the same for business management: before you execute on a business initiative, you need a plan. Before you implement a marketing tactic, make sure you invest the time and resources in having a professional strategic marketing plan.
As a business owner, you know what you know, and what you don’t. Marketing, as an aspect of a business, is no different. Hiring a strategic marketing agency to develop your strategic plan is just good business sense.
A big part of any strategy is understanding how your customers value what you do for them. Depending on what data you may already have, a strategic marketing agency will conduct in-depth research on your customers and competitors to understand what brought them to you, and also why they stay.
As a result of the research analysis and the agency’s experience, they will be able to create an area of difference for you – something unique that differentiates your business from others in your industry. This brand identity is rooted in what your customers value.
This strategic marketing plan will now act as your roadmap and provide direction for all aspects of your marketing efforts and determine what tactics will be most effective in targeting specific customers. This is similar to how the strategy in a game of chess is needed to determine the moves made on the board.
Once your strategy is complete and you know what tactics are required, you can make an informed decision as to who will implement them. You’ll need to look at your internal resources and skill sets and compare them to external ones. If you choose to take them on in-house, think about who will manage them from a marketing perspective. You may choose to outsource only a portion of your tactics while taking on the rest internally. When it comes to implementation, you have a few options. Taking the time to plan can save your business thousands of dollars in needless tactics.
One of the biggest challenges I find many small business owners face is dealing with complacency. When a new business first starts out, owners are overcome with excitement with every forward step. But at one point or another, the excitement of the early days starts to slow down, and eventually your company may begin to experience a plateau.
A stagnant business is one that faces little to no new activity for an extended period of time. Complacency tends to come from sticking with the status quo and getting used to your business’s “comfort zone”. Many business owners adhere to the mindset of “if it was working for the first 5 years, why change it now?” The truth is, sometimes change is exactly what you need to revitalize your business and get it growing again.
If you’re facing complacency in your business, below are 5 steps for revitalizing your business to get it back on track for growth.
1) Find out what your customers want
A lack of understanding about what your customers truly want from your business can be detrimental to your small business. This is why engaging in market research is essential to drive your company’s growth. Have you had a conversation with your customers to find out what needs are being met, and what needs aren’t? By hiring a market research company or a marketing agency with a specialization in market research to conduct unbiased market research, you will be able to gain invaluable information about your customers as well as your competitors. Once you’ve done this research, you’ll have a much better idea about how you can fulfill your customers’ needs to the best of your ability.
2) Focus on increases in certain sectors and products
Your industry landscape changes at such a rapid pace, and as a small business owner, it’s important that you keep up-to-date with it. Look at projected growth sectors to get an understanding of which products or services are headed for long-term growth, and which ones are on the decline. Some may be obvious, but others may not be so apparent. This is why it’s crucial to take the time and do proper research. Once you have a better idea about the projected growth rate of certain sectors, consider shifting your business model to become more aligned with these industry changes.
3) Re-examine former revenue sources
While focusing on changes in the industry landscape is important, equally important is looking at what has traditionally brought you revenue. After the first few years of your business, you may have lost focus on areas that were once reliable sources of revenue for your company. Have you steered your attention towards niche areas as a result of increased demand, and lost sight of your more dependable revenue sources? If your business has stalled, one of the first things you should do is gauge whether or not you have neglected some of your core competencies at the expense of chasing something new.
4) Review your company’s operations
I’ve found that many small businesses do not focus enough time and energy on their internal operations. Often, owners struggle to let go of the “startup” mindset they once had. This is a shame, as a company’s internal operations can have a huge influence on the productivity of their business. As your business grows, it’s important you grow with it. In a previous blog, I discussed the importance of delegation. Are you delegating work where necessary? Have you considered outsourcing certain tasks to allow you to focus on growing your business?
5) Create a plan
The only way you will be able to properly execute the above steps is if you have a solid plan in place. It’s essential you know exactly what resources are required and how much time and energy is needed to accomplish what you want done. Understanding these two key areas will allow you to set realistic short-term and long-term goals for your business. Remember, making any large-scale changes to your company takes time, so patience is needed to see through your goals.
It is important to keep the momentum going in order for your business not to stall. Although complacency is a frustrating obstacle to face, it is quite common. By following these 5 steps on how to revitalize your business, you’ll be equipped with the confidence to move forward and make the necessary changes needed to get your business back on the track you want it to be.
As a business owner, you know how important it is to keep things fresh and innovative in your workplace, but when making changes, you’ll need to consider how your plans might impact your employees.
If you are in the process of job redesign where employees are assigned new roles that play into their strengths and contribute to a more successful business, these changes can be stressful to your employees. If someone has been hired for a particular job and then he or she is suddenly expected to perform a different role in the organization, tension and stress can result.
A recent report found that 46% of 1,018 Canadian employees recently surveyed had taken time off work or noticed other employees taking sick leave following workplace changes, a common symptom of a stressed-out workplace.
I’ve outlined below a few tips on how you can shift roles in your organization without contributing to employee stress:
- Share your vision.
Why are you doing this? What is this change going to accomplish for your organization? Sharing this vision with employees will allow them to understand exactly why this is happening, and help them find their part in it.
- Keep the lines of communication open in regards to role change.
Ask employees how they feel they can contribute to a new role and encourage conversation. By doing this, you can evaluate each employee’s strengths and weaknesses, while giving them an opportunity to work in a new role they would truly enjoy.
Make sure employees stay up to date as things begin to shift. For example, when you have made some final role decisions, send out an email to all staff informing them of the new structure. Keeping everyone in the know will ensure a smooth transition process.
- When your employees begin their new role, make sure they feel supported.
Assuming a new role can be challenging, especially if the employee doesn’t have a lot of previous experience in the position. Positive reinforcement can go a long way, as employees are less likely to experience stress when they report a positive and supportive workplace culture.
In today’s workplace, you need to keep things fresh, but maintain a balance against a backdrop of inclusiveness and communication. Learning how to handle change effectively is what will keep your team on the right path to growing your business.
How have you successfully restructured your business?
Congratulations! You’ve landed a new client, now what? The first few months of your new business relationship will determine the level of satisfaction your client has with you and will ultimately factor into whether or not you have a solid working relationship from which to grow. In order to maximize your level of service during this new and exciting time, I highly recommend following a carefully crafted onboarding process.
An onboarding process acts as somewhat of a blueprint for the next few months of the new relationship by clearly outlining expectations for both parties involved. Moreover, it protects both parties by mitigating any form of miscommunication or false expectations.
I’ve outlined below the steps involved in creating an effective onboarding process:
1) Send a welcome email
With most things in life, first impressions matter. This is no different in business, and sending your client a personalized welcome email from a C-level individual at your company not only shows your commitment to working with them, but it’s also a nice gesture that opens a line of communication.
2) Learn their resources
Since every company is different and operates in their own way, knowing what resources they have available is important to accomplishing your goals. For example, and depending on the type of services you’ll be providing, you’ll need to establish what platforms each company uses, what internal staff will be directly working with you, and whom you can go to with questions.
3) Establish mutual goals
A new business relationship is a two way street, and success is dependent upon clear communication and support offered by each party. Simply because a working agreement has been established, it doesn’t automatically mean both parties are on the same page. It is through the onboarding process that the details of the contract can fully be planned for effective execution.
4) Have a kick-off meeting
Whether over the phone or in person, hosting a kick-off meeting with key members involved in the launch of a service is an important step for setting expectations and weeding out any kinks that may have been overlooked during the original planning phase.
5) Obtain feedback
Once your business relationship has begun, checking in with your client to provide updates and ensure their satisfaction is key to demonstrating your willingness to foster a successful relationship. Not only will this show them your commitment to providing excellent customer service, but it will allow for any concerns or necessary changes to come to light. Having a 30, 60 or 90-day feedback session is recommended, but you can customize this plan based on your client’s preferences.
As you’ve probably realized in your business ventures, every client is different. Making tweaks to your onboarding process may be required depending on what each client’s expectations of you are and vice versa. Ultimately, an onboarding process is created to help you achieve success and maintain a mutual understanding with your client, so putting in the time to carefully craft one is in your best interest.
Do you have an onboarding process in place for new clients?
As discussed in my last blog, a business is only as strong as its team, I shared with you why having a strong team is so vital to your business’s success. Once we as business owners understand the value of a strong team, the natural next step is how to create that team and how to measure its success.
There are several key elements to building and measuring a strong team—from defining roles, ensuring communication, to celebrating successes and measuring progress. I’ve outlined four key elements that you’ll need to consider in building a successful team.
- Define and Value Roles
In addition to a job description, ensure your staff have their responsibilities clearly outlined. Clearly defining what it is the team member is responsible for, as well as how it plays a part in the overall company, will help in understanding the value their position plays in the overall growth of your company.
- Openly Communicate
Open, or two-way, communication is a key aspect in running a successful business. Your employees rely on you to communicate your expectations to them and to provide any information or training that may be required.
From a feedback and measurement perspective, communication is key. Create not only an onboarding document which outlines your expectations, but also develop a feedback mechanism for them to communicate their progress or any difficulties they may be experiencing. You can establish weekly or daily meetings with them and ask them to create a report, which gives you an overall perspective on how they are progressing and managing tasks.
- Celebrate Success/Embrace Failure
If an employee or team accomplishes something in the workplace, celebrate it! No, you don’t have to throw a big party with cake, streamers and balloons, but even the simplest recognition like a personalized email acknowledging their accomplishment can go a long way.
However, if mistakes happen, use them as a learning opportunity not just for that individual, but also for the entire team. As a business owner, it’s essential not to place blame or point fingers when something goes wrong. The goal of your team is to work towards the future of the business, so learning from mistakes should make for a valuable lesson moving forward.
A team is non-existent without collaboration. Collaboration can be achieved in many ways – through effective communication, sharing of knowledge, and peer support. Ensure you have built in opportunities for collaboration, which might be regular team meetings, in-house lunch and learns, one-on-one meetings, etc.
Roles often collide and allow employees to work synonymously together. If we think back to the restaurant analogy, a cook would not be able to plate food without clean dishes, nor could a server serve the food if the tables are not cleared.
Lastly, team building and measurement is an ongoing process in which you play a vital part. Allow yourself the time to invite your team to share in your goals and help you achieve them. Just as no man is an island unto himself, no company can be built without a strong team.
What do you and your team hope to accomplish for the remainder of the year?
With over 30 years of experience, I’m often asked by business owners how they can take their business to the next level. While there are many ways of doing this, such as marketing initiatives, sales strategies, staffing and the like, I always stress one important factor that tends to be overlooked – the foundation of a solid team.
As a business owner, you’ve likely hired staff to support your operations. If you haven’t hired any staff yet, it’s likely just over the horizon if you plan on any form of growth in the near future. Strategic staffing ensures you are hiring not only the right person for the job, but someone who will support the vision and future growth of your organization. When hiring someone to fulfil a role, ask them what their values are and how they think they align with your company’s mission. Simply put, just because a candidate has a certain skill set, it does not mean they are a good fit for your company. Having a team mentality with cohesive goals will foster a dedicated work environment built for success. If your team encapsulates members who are willing to grow as individuals, both professionally and personally, there’s a good chance they’ll want to apply that opportunity for growth to the growth of the company. Taking the time to mentor your employees will result in unequivocal benefits for both parties involved for years to come.
Further to aligning values and goals, balanced skill sets will ensure you have a strong team. It’s important to remember that as individuals, it’s human nature to have both strengths and weaknesses. The strongest team is one that encompasses skills of all sorts that complement each other in a synergistic manner. Similarly, there must be a good balance between leadership and peer support. As a business owner, you should strive to lead your team to success through empowerment and motivation, but most importantly, through example.
One thing that I have observed in organizations is that there is sometimes a lack of effective communication within teams. As individuals, we tend to think that everyone we interact with wants to be communicated to in the same way that we do. However, this is not always the case. While one person in your organization may like to talk things through, another might like things written down. Learning how to effectively communicate with your team will allow for a more productive workplace and will ensure that your goals are always successfully met.
Ultimately, a strong team will only thrive if trust is established between team members. In my next blog, I’ll discuss in more detail the best ways to build a strong team and how you can go about measuring their success.
Do you think you have the right team in place to achieve your company’s goals?