Communicating in Your Company

Every organization develops a system of communication that allows it to get its work done and accomplish its goals. Good communication can be defined as the process necessary to ensure that everyone who needs to know does so, and has this knowledge when they need to have it.

There are three groups that your kitchen and bath firm must communicate with on a regular basis: employees, suppliers and subcontractors, and customers and clients. Each of these groups requires different approaches and techniques to keep everyone informed.

We can't discuss communication without looking at the rapid changes in technology which are taking place. This month, we'll look at these, as well as the basics of communicating in each of these settings.

The size of your business will play a big role in the means and methods of communicating internally. A small organization of a half dozen people will likely be working in close proximity, and can accomplish the goal of keeping each other informed by simply talking to each other, and paying attention to what's going on around them.

As an organization grows, work has to be divided, and it's no longer practical for everyone to know everything that's going on within the business. While even the small business will have procedures and practices that allow it to establish routine ways of doing things, it becomes much more important as phases of the job get broken down into separate tasks. These procedures and practices become a structure that allows everyone in the organization to know where records, documents and answers to their questions can be found.

As a business grows, the level of activity causes the number of transactions to increase and, as a result, the need for documentation grows. This includes not only transaction documents, such as checks, invoices, etc., but the everyday communications between employees. Where phone messages and scraps of paper once sufficed, it now becomes important to have a systematic way of dealing with the deluge of information that comes our way daily.

This internal communication can be verbal, written or electronic, with each of these having benefits and drawbacks. Verbal communications are immediate, and have the advantage of maintaining the human contact element. Written communications have the advantage of providing a clear record of what was said, and provide the recipient with a reminder of the information passed. Electronic communications provide a permanent record of communication, while also providing a rapid method of delivery and the ability to easily catalog the information.

Regardless of the level of technology, it's essential that a system be created which allows you to retrieve the series of communications that relate to various projects, suppliers, etc. For the members of your staff, such a system allows them to deposit and retrieve the necessary information needed to communicate within your business.

Suppliers and subs
Maintaining communications with those within your business is done in a much more controlled environment than when you communicate with those outside this circle. If your business is functioning properly, its members are all pulling in roughly the same direction, and will be motivated to communicate to accomplish the goals of the business.'

But when you communicate with other individuals and businesses, you're dealing with groups which may have conflicting methods and goals, so the opportunity for misunderstanding is much greater.

The key to communicating with suppliers and subcontractors is to first make sure that you understand each other's businesses and what the expectations of each are. Make an effort to get to know the people your organization is doing business with; create opportunities for your employees to get to know their suppliers or subcontractor counterparts. It will help them to see these individuals as people, instead of just a voice on the phone who is failing to meet your business' needs.

Further complicating our efforts to communicate, population demographics have brought together workers from many cultures and linguistic backgrounds. When faced with this language barrier, all parties involved must take pains to make sure that messages get through. In most cases, written instructions, work orders, purchase orders, etc., will work better than verbal communications.

Today's technology allows us to provide suppliers and subcontractors with the verbal and hard copy direction and instruction that they need to accomplish their task and accurately fill orders. The Internet allows us to obtain current and accurate specifications, drawings and pictures of the products we are to supply, and forward them on to our subs via e-mail. We can fax orders and schedules to suppliers and subcontractors so that orders are entered and filled accurately.'

One of the greatest advances in our ability to control the situation at job sites is cellular technology. The ability to communicate directly and continuously with a field employee right at the site of the work being performed allows us, in many cases, to replace field supervision with off-site supervision, allowing one supervisor to control work at multiple locations.

Good communication with your clients starts with a well written and documented contract. It's particularly important to make sure that the contract process brings the clients to a point where they truly understand what they're agreeing to.

Once the contract is signed, keeping a client informed can mean the difference between a happy client and an unhappy one. It's human nature for people to become agitated if they're unable to pass on a concern or problem. You must make sure that your clients have a means of reaching someone at all times who will "take over" their concern.

Here again, technology can help. Pagers give your client the security of knowing that they can reach a member of your staff at any time. Faxes, e-mail and voice mail can also assist in keeping clients informed.

Nearly everyone who has lasted for any period of time in this business is capable of doing quality work; the difference between mediocre firms and ones that stand out is usually the quality of their communications. To that end, paying attention to this area and keeping up with the ever-changing means and methods is critical.