It’s the time of year when people make commitments to good habits. While many of us are probably thinking about exercising more or eating less, I’d like to see promises to practice good communication in the workplace. No matter your job function, your skill set, or your level in your organization, you must be able to communicate well to do your job effectively. However, we frequently don’t take communication that seriously. It often seems like a “soft skill” that is a nice-to-have but not an essential capability. But the costs of poor workplace communication can be significant.

The Project Management Institute published a report showing that at organizations that have “highly effective” communication practices, 80% of projects meet original goals compared to only 52% of projects at organizations with “minimally effective” communication practices. The same report also found that highly effective communicators were more likely to deliver projects on time (71% vs. 37%) and within budget (76% vs. 48%). In fact, the study found that the most important factor in project success is effective communication. So what makes the difference between “highly effective” and “minimally effective” communication?

The PMI report found that two things in particular were common problem areas for communication. The first is that there is frequently a disconnect between the strategic reasons an organization sponsors a project and the project team itself. This means that the business benefits or overall organizational purpose of the project is not well understood by those on the project team. However, as the report mentions, “When companies close the gap between the developers of the strategy and those that must execute it, projects are more successful.” This may be in part because when team members understand the long-term goal of the project, how it supports the overall direction of the organization, and their personal contribution and impact, they are more motivated and engaged in the project.

The second common communication pitfall is using terminology that is not appropriate to the audience. For example, when providing a high-level summary to organization executives, it doesn’t make sense to use highly-technical jargon used in day-to-day project tasking. The words may not be meaningful to the audience, and the level of detail may be too minute. So good communication rests on making sure the information being communicated is clear to the recipients and uses an appropriate level of detail. This issue is also directly related to the first issue, of translating business benefits to those executing the project effectively.

While knowing about these common communication challenges is useful, these specific actions will take you even further toward effective communication:

  • Set communication goals. Do you need to convince organization executives that your project is worth funding? Keep your boss updated on project status? Help your team understand the big picture? You must first know what you want to accomplish with your communications before you can determine the best approach to communications.
  • Determine who/what/when/how. In order to meet your communication goals, who needs to receive what information? How often do they need to get it? How will it be delivered – via email, presentation, one-on-one meeting? The answers to these questions give you a good start to a specific communications plan and actions.
  • Speak their language. You will likely have a number of different entities to communicate with, each with their own interests and perspective. You may be communicating the same type of information to two different groups but use the terminology and detail appropriate to each group to ensure your message is heard.

Poor communication can jeopardize your projects before they even begin. But with just a few changes to the way you approach communication, you can greatly increase your chances of project and organization success in the new year.

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