Lack of Clarity in the Workplace is Costing Your Organization

October 20, 2017 | Fierce | HCI
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As with every endeavor, it’s important to know where you’re going. If things are foggy or ambiguous on your way to success, any actions taken will require more time and resources, or may fail altogether. Unfortunately, these failures are happening too often in business.

Clarity matters. Each small clarity problem within an organization may seem insignificant at first, but gradually, they lead to big problems. The good news is that miscommunication issues can be resolved before we arrive at a sudden “Oh, crap!”

Effective conversation is the way to clarity. There are no alternative fixes. When a conversation is effective, miscommunications are either resolved or prevented, and employees feel clear on their roles, goals, and action items. You’ll know a miscommunication has occurred if anyone is unclear. A miscommunication has also occurred if a conversation hasn’t taken place that in fact needs to take place.

Here’s what these common miscommunications are costing organizations:

1. Engagement

Survey findings in our recent Fierce + Quantum eBook on miscommunication reveal that quality conversations improve employee engagement. If you’ve experienced ambiguity or confusion in a conversation, you probably know how disengaging it can be. When you don’t know where you stand or where to take action, whether it be with a project or another person, you’re not likely to be effective in any capacity. This impact on engagement is expensive for companies, costing the total U.S. economy around $370 billion a year.

2. Relationships

Also tied to engagement, relationships take a hit when there’s lack of clarity either individually or organization-wide. Employees won’t feel part of a team and won’t be able to build strong connections with each other when their directives or goals are unclear. Instead, they may feel isolated, or even worse, like they don’t belong. This is bad for workplace culture and can lead to unhappy employees.

3. Results

It’s a bit of a domino effect. When engagement and relationships are impacted, so are business results, including revenue. Your bottom line, individual goals, and team goals will all be derailed without clarity. Leadership may feel inclined to jump right into a conversation about results if results are suffering, and although these conversations are necessary, it’s important for leaders to take a step back and determine where miscommunication is occurring and engagement is lacking in order to shift outcomes.

As you can see, miscommunication is costing your organization in all areas of business.

You can begin addressing the problem by looking at areas where lack of clarity shows up. Here are the three areas that often cause strife in organizations:

Goals and purpose

If you don’t know what you’re working towards, your daily actions will have little context. If employees and leadership have different goals, or if anyone is unclear of what their intended outcomes are, engagement suffers. Have conversations around expectations with everyone involved. Write a “stump speech,” as individuals and as a team, answering these questions:

Where are you going?

Why are you going there?

Who is going with you?

How are you going to get there?

• Roles and responsibilities

A formal job description gives employees a general understanding of their role within an organization, but when it comes to day-to-day tasks, that clarity may disappear. This is where delegation conversations are essential. Delegating effectively can create clarity around, for example, whether an individual owns a certain task item or whether they merely need to weigh in on the task. Employees need to know where the responsibilities of their role begin and end, and if (and how) those responsibilities might overlap with their coworkers.

Poor conversation  

Survey results from the eBook also reveal that only half of all conversations are great, according to respondents. That leaves half of all conversations open to miscommunication. Effective conversation is the solution for gaining clarity, and for conversations to be effective, they need to take place frequently and include clarifying questions. We have to be willing to communicate what we’re really thinking and feeling. Frequency is especially important when it comes to giving and requesting feedback. Taking a “when you see it, say it” approach is best—engagement improves when appreciation is out in the open and employees are clear on potential areas they can improve. Feedback conversations, in combination with asking clarifying questions whenever anything is unclear, are the two conversational skills that can significantly reduce miscommunication.

When you create clarity in these areas, you improve engagement, and in turn, you get results.

For more information on how miscommunication affects engagement, download the State of Miscommunication: 6 Insights on Effective Workplace Communication eBook here.

Join Beth Wagner, Fierce Master Facilitator, as she explores what employee toxicity is really costing your bottom line, and shares 5 Fierce Strategies to help you remove the impact of toxic employees on your culture in our webcast on November 9.