It’s a well- made, coated aluminium product, part of a popular range bearing the brand name of a famous European factory. It’s suitable for gas, electric, induction and glass-topped stoves, it’s smartly finished and attractively priced. Is that possible that there is some business communication issue on this process.
Have a closer look though. Notice that the wooden grip is attached to the body of the pan by a metal bracket held in place by rivets. At first glance, an attractive and practical design.
Unfortunately, it is also potentially very dangerous
On the stove, the bracket gets about as hot as the pan itself. So unless you’re super careful when handling it, you could be in for a nasty surprise.
An occasional blister in the kitchen is no big deal, you may think. But what if there was hot oil in the pan and the shock of unexpectedly touching the hot metal caused you to drop it? You and anyone else in the kitchen at the time could have been badly injured.
In the UK alone, 26,000 children require hospital treatment every year for burn accidents in the home.
So what has all this to do with business communication?
Let’s take a rough guess at how many people are closely involved with this product. At the factory, somebody in charge of sales or marketing decided the time was right for a new range of kitchenware.
He or she briefed a design team and, perhaps with other senior managers, reviewed the team’s work and chose the option you see here.
From there, technical people created scale drawings and it’s likely they made a prototype to work out costs and material requirements.
Finally, the shiny new products were presented to the sales team who, no doubt proudly, showed them to their retail clients, some of Europe’s leading homeware retailers.
And everyone’s lips were sealed. Is this a business communication effect?
Before reaching the end customer, the new pans had been conceived, stared at, discussed, tested, argued about, admired and finally given the go ahead by at least thirty people, perhaps as many as fifty.
Nobody, from the chief executive down, noticed that the handle of this pan is, well, too hot to handle. Really?
Of course not.
Plenty of people knew or at least guessed there was a problem. Why didn’t they speak out?
Or, worse still, if they did sound the alarm, why were they ignored?
We can only guess. We can imagine an organization where fear overrules judgement. Where insecure employees are discouraged from rocking the boat, where managers are not used to being questioned by underlings about their decisions.
An old-fashioned company, perhaps, with strict procedures and tightly defined zones of responsibility which no one dares to challenge.
Unfortunately, society has an unfortunate habit of punishing whistleblowers, so perhaps we should have sympathy for everyone who kept quiet.
How do you create a climate where people are prepared to speak up?
- The first step is to publish a new company policy that recognizes the importance of everyone’s contribution to a more open organization.
- The policy should make it clear that you welcome feedback, anonymously if necessary, on everything from bullying in the workplace to corruption, mismanagement, inefficiency, quality and safety issues, unethical practices – anything that can affect the company’s performance.
- At the same time, provide a system that captures feedback directly and free from scrutiny by the employee’s boss. (In case he or she is the subject of a complaint.)
- This can be as simple as a putting up suggestion boxes and adding a protected page to the company’s intranet.
- Acknowledge each contribution, investigate and, where possible, report back on any action taken.
- Employees who provide information that leads to loss recovery, more profitable operations, improved safety and efficiency, enhanced reputation and so on should be rewarded and their efforts praised by management. This positive reinforcement will encourage more employees to participate.
Internal business communication is as important as your public voice
You experience the effects of poor or non-existent internal communications almost daily. From airline personnel who never know what to say to stranded passengers, middle managers who can’t recall their company’s mission statement, retail staff who don’t know which items are out of stock and so on.
These lapses lead to customer dissatisfaction, poor staff motivation and ultimately a slowdown on the bottom line.
- Make a commitment to improve your internal communications now.
- A few simple and inexpensive initiatives will let you tap into a well of useful information that will result in a more open, inclusive and efficient working environment.
- Get others involved in suggesting ideas and make sure that the system you adopt is fair to everyone involved.