Communications Reminders

A few things I’ve learned over the years with regard to communication…

> It is simply impossible to over-communicate, especially when it comes to a group of people.

The larger the group, the more difficult it is to ensure that your message has 1) already been heard/read; 2) already been understood (correctly & accurately); 3) already been agreed to by your recipients (physically, psychologically); 4) already surfaced any issues regarding acceptance, agreement, comprehension, implementation, etc. BEFORE you could ever hope that; 5) it’s been incorporated into people’s normal routines, specific processes or various procedures.

Things you assume that “everyone knows” really need to be reinforced. There will always be some who “simply don’t get it”.

“It was already covered in new hire training!” You will be absolutely amazed (horrified) if you actually PROACTIVELY tried to find that out from your newer employees or transfers into your area.

If you’re waiting to be asked questions (in order to determine what “someone doesn’t know”), you’re probably doing 1/10 of what you should be doing!

Most people will NOT admit that they’re having problems or what those problems are for fear of “looking stupid” or “appearing not fully capable of doing their job”.

For every person who raises their hand & says “I don’t get it!”, I guarantee there are 5-10 others who are thinking the same exact thing!

When I was @ Citi, we (Bobby Hogan & I) were putting together business requirements for a new front-end to the then-current CWS/CitiPhone WorkStation platform.

We decided to pass a bunch of our ideas & mock-ups by a bunch of CitiPhone representatives. And we solicited volunteers from 3 distinct groups: those who’ve been on the phones <=9 months…those with 9 months to 2 years of experience…those with 2+ yrs on the phone.

When we showed the first group (up to 9 months) a bunch of our stuff for their reaction, I was completely lately blown away!

With their lack of working knowledge regarding the CWS application they’ve been using!!!

So much stuff that I would’ve taken for granted (that they would not only have known, but easily should have mastered by then), they were semi-clueless! And several of their Team Leaders had already touted them as “one of my best reps”!

I was shocked. Dismayed. Furious. Embarrassed.

Not at the reps themselves (although they do bear some responsibility), but at their managers. And SiteWide Monitoring. And New Hire Training.

And SFA/Success For All. Reps who graduated from new hire training would go into these SFA groups where they (supposedly) received a greater degree of hands-on support & remedial training. Only until they demonstrated “full competence” would they be assigned to actual teams where, basically, they were on their own.

Oh, the entire concept was great, but as with most things (not just at Citi), the planning, execution & self-examination was absolutely terrible.

People were promoted into SME/Subject Matter Expert roles who were the furthest things from experts.

Combine that with some trainers who were out-of-touch with how the real world operated & a lot of first-line supervisors (Team Leaders) who were not technically proficient at their job, and you have a disaster waiting to happen. (Pls note: If you’re at, say, the VP level, perhaps you wouldn’t know the ins & outs of what every employee under you does. You probably wouldn’t be the most technically-proficient individual in your organization. But when you’re a Team Leader, a first-line supervisor, well you damned well better be!)

As I would so often say, it was “the blind leading the blind”!

One would figure that the business (USCC) would realize that something was amiss…”high client satisfaction” hovered in the low 60s for years & the feedback received from the branches across the country was pretty negative, almost all the time!

But the adage of “You don’t know what you don’t know until you know it!” was alive & well at the USCC for many years.

Most new hires had -0- retail banking experience & very little customer service expertise.

Annual turnover grew steadily into the new century as it surpassed 20%, 25%, then 30% by 2006.

USAA was eating our lunch as they would hire away many of our best employees (all of whom had at least a year’s experience)…by offering salaries that were 10%-15% higher!

Oh, I was talking about communication, right?

One of the best things we started to embrace was CBT/Computer-Based Training.

While it’s certainly not the be-all, end-all for improving employee performance, it is a great tool to utilize in a dynamic work environment.

The workday, especially in a call center, is filled with peaks & valleys. There are so many moving parts in this type of environment…where you have 20 seconds to pick up the next call, and the next, and the next, until you’ve done that over 50,000 times or more a day.

You can’t just “OK, lets have a staff meeting now!” as your timeliness performance is measured in seconds, not days!

The pressure is incredible. What’s needed just to get through the day would absolutely blow your mind. The reps are paid amongst the very lowest of all employees, yet the knowledge required to do a good job is probably greater than any other position.

Would you believe that VPs’ secretaries had higher grades than the Customer Service representatives? (Not dissing the lovely ladies, but c’mon now!)

I would often say that “…if we had 1,500 secretaries & a dozen phone representatives, instead of the other way around…”, you could be damned sure that they wouldn’t be paid more, and have a higher grade level, than the phone representatives!


You can never have enough.


The other point that I’d like to stress is that your communications need to embrace the LCD/Least Common Denominator philosophy.

When you’re communicating with your people, you can’t communicate to the “average employee” in that group…it must be directed at the least knowledgeable employee.

You must ensure that every single employee of your team fully understands the message you’re trying to communicate.

If it’s a very simple, fact-based piece, then your best people will have no issue understanding what’s going on…and neither should your newbies & less-than-stellar performers.

But even if you address the “middle of the road” (in terms of expertise & knowledge) with your communication, then you’re gonna lose your whole bottom 1/3 of the group as they’re not gonna be able to easily grasp what you’re trying to get across to them.

Communicate simply. Don’t assume too much with regard to whatever everyone knows.

You don’t wanna leave anyone out.

Now, of course, you can & should be more specific when your communicating with individuals or targeted groups. Then, you MUST tailor your style & your message to fit that narrow(er) audience.

Did I mention that’s it’s impossible to over-communicate?

And don’t forget to utilize each medium (speaking, the written word, electronic communications, etc.) as different age groups…Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, millennials…will gravitate to different methodologies.

What you discussed at your staff meeting should then be summarized in a handout as well as distributed in an e-mail.

More than any other factor, communication (not just what you communicate, but how & how often) is the most important factor in determining both employee & customer satisfaction.

And if you’re not a good communicator, not as effective as you’d like to be, or not comfortable doing it, go get some help!

Practice. Take some training courses (Effective Writing, Public Speaking, Business Communication Skills, etc.). Get assistance from a mentor or someone who does have demonstrated expertise in this area.

If you want to maximize your potential & become (more) successful, you must excel at communicating. There’s no getting around it.

And, yeah, you can still maintain your individuality & style while effectively getting your message across…


As always, thank you so much for listening!

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