Why Communication is Important to Success in an Organization

By Mike Schwartz, MS, ATP, A&P

In aviation, the worst thing we can imagine is the loss of an aircraft and life in a mishap.  We have the ability to place a value on the aircraft and the loss of life, projected revenue and residual effects of the accident.  It becomes much more difficult to put a value on the loss of corporate image.  Most of us have worked hard to develop a brand image for our organizations and strive to grow that image in the public’s eye.  But what is the value of a damaged corporate image? 

This article is not about aircraft accidents or even the value of a corporate image but rather communication within an organization.     

Effective communications are a two way street in any organization.  They must start from top management, the business owner, CEO, Board of Directors, Chief Pilot, or supervisor at a particular location.  Communication needs to be transparent, straight forward and honest.  It must convey the desires and demands of management to the employees so they know exactly what is expected of them in the performance of their jobs.  It must also convey any challenges that the organization is experiencing and proposed methods of working through those challenges.  Top management should also communicate how decisions were made and the considerations used in the decision process.  This is not meant to imply that all decisions must be shared with the employee groups, but those decisions that have a direct effect on them and the work they perform.

While communication from top management to employees is important, perhaps even more critical to the success of an organization is communication from the employees to top management.  Employees are an important information source in an organization.  They are on the front lines, performing the tasks that are crucial to the organization’s success.  They have firsthand knowledge of what works and what is in need of redesign, and quite often, they have the ideas and the ability to redesign a process to improve efficiency.

In order for communications to be effective, an organization needs to develop and maintain an environment that encourages employees to report hazards, issues and concerns, as well as accidents and incidents that occur in the work place.  Employees should also be encouraged to suggest and recommend solutions to the problems they identify. 

One way to foster this reporting is by establishing a confidential employee reporting system.  In commercial aviation, ASAP (Aviation Safety Action Program) development provides this employee feedback and also ensures that issues are addressed in a confidential setting.  One limitation to ASAP is that not all employee groups may be represented.  Companies that do not have ASAP’s may consider providing employees with a hotline, a suggestion box, or computer based submission forms.  One confidential reporting system is the NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS).  This system may be used by certificated employees involved in aviation to report issues or concerns effecting aircraft operation.  ASRS may provide limited immunity in the form of waivers of sanctions for reported events with certain restrictions.  When using this reporting system, the company may not have any idea that a problem exists as no direct feedback is provided by ASRS.

As you develop and employ a confidential reporting program and utilize this input in decision making, employees will begin to trust the system and work towards resolving systemic problems. This in turn will lead to increased employee participation and greater input for operational decision making.

Now a confidential employee reporting program is not a pass for a flagrant violation of federal regulations or company policies and procedures.  Unacceptable behavior by an employee requires disciplinary action that is appropriate for the employee’s actions.

The fastest way to eliminate an employee reporting system in your organization is by failing to provide feedback to the employee groups that have submitted reports.  By failing to provide feedback you demonstrate that input by employees is not appreciated or wanted.  The employees will quickly learn that management is not interested in their concerns and will quit reporting issues. 

Another way to kill communication in an organization is to fire the messenger.  If you do not like the message or the way it is delivered, just get rid of the messenger.  That communicates to the workforce that management is not interested in what they have to say. As stated above, they will stop reporting issues and your organization will continue to suffer. 

Feedback does not come only from employees but also from customers.  If you fail to answer their emails, phone calls, or feedback, they will take their business elsewhere and your organization will suffer from the loss of business.  Some studies have said that if you upset one customer, they tell at least four friends about how they were treated. 

When management loses touch with what is happening in the field, it is unable to identify downward trends before problems occur.  And that has a direct effect on your bottom line and corporate image.