Post by: Jessica Melynchuk, ECO Canada
A new study found companies that invest in business skills training, like communication, see an average 25% return on their investment, with increased productivity, fewer mistakes and greater customer satisfaction.
So why is it that only 31% of employers say they would provide essential-skills training for their employees, despite 92% of business owners agreeing that well-trained employees are the key to a successful business?
Good communication is one of the fundamental business skills that allow a company to succeed. But many employers fear they will train their staff right into another job. On the other hand, what if you don’t train them, and they stay? As Richard Branson, billionaire founder of Virgin Group, says, “Train people well enough so they can leave; treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”
Another common reason employers cite for avoiding communication skills training is a perceived lack of time. Environmental organizations are becoming busier and busier, and employers don’t want to lose valuable billable hours on training.
But research shows strong business skills like communication result in higher productivity, meaning your staff can get their work done better and in less time. Investing in training means you’ll actually be saving time in the long run.
You may have a talented and educated team, and the confidence that they will not only get the job done, but get it done well. But many employers take the ability to communicate well for granted. If your team can’t effectively translate complex concepts into simple, clear, actionable ideas, or handle difficult clients without escalating conflict, will there even be a project for them to work on?
One of the easiest ways for any organization to stay ahead of their competition is to make sure their staff is trained well right from the beginning. Teaching your junior staff early on to be better communicators will have a trickle-down effect throughout your entire company, resulting in clear, efficient and accurate messaging that will set you up for long term success and more engaged employees.
There are four main areas of concern employers have when considering their staff’s communication skills:
1. My staff rely too much on email
Email is a safe and easy way to get written documentation of a conversation or to send a message you feel uncomfortable discussing. Most people don’t like conflict or even the potential for conflict. But in situations with a large possibility of confusion or high emotions, email is not the appropriate method of communication to use. Intentions can be easily misinterpreted, usually negatively. And workers who rely heavily on email can lose their abilities to collaborate well with others.
It’s essential to know about all the other methods of communication, and when it’s appropriate to use them. Phone calls, for example, are better than email for in-depth conversations, as emotion can be read through the tone of someone’s voice and messages can be adapted according to reaction or understanding. But they don’t allow for interpretation of facial expressions or body language and have less ability to build relationships than face-to-face meetings.
On the other hand, face-to-face meetings can be inconvenient and expensive, so in some situations video conferencing may be your best option.
To ensure accurate, efficient and successful communication both internally and externally, make sure your staff have the skills to recognize which method is appropriate depending on the message they need to get across.
2. My staff don’t know how to read body language
So you’ve finally convinced your employee to stop relying so heavily on email communication. He’s taking more meetings, talking on the phone more often, and has even figured out how to set up a video chat. But for some reason, he’s still losing projects and contracts.
Emotional intelligence (EQ) – the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions – does not always come naturally to some, but is crucial to good communication. Being able to correctly interpret non-verbal cues like facial expressions and body language can alter the way we deliver our message. Without this ability, we may not notice that the person across the table isn’t liking or understanding what we are saying.
Many studies over the years have argued that EQ can be learned. If your staff struggle with interpreting non-verbal cues, have them study a body language guide so they know what gestures to watch out for.
3. Instead of dealing with conflict, my staff avoid it
Many junior staff don’t have the knowledge and confidence to deal with less than favourable situations on their own; they will often deflect to more senior staff to handle the situation. This could mean more billable hours are used up, and with people that bill at a higher rate.
It may not be possible to satisfy everyone’s needs all of the time, but an honest discussion and a willingness to compromise when appropriate can allow for quicker problem-solving and even the evolution of a relationship. After all, studies have shown that customers who have a negative experience with a company but receive good customer service after the problem, actually rate their satisfaction level higher than customers who experience no problems at all.
Arming your team from the get-go with the knowledge they need to be confident in handling difficult situations will result in staff that can successfully de-escalate conflict, saving you time and preserving relationships both internally and externally.
4. My staff have difficulty explaining their technical knowledge to potential clients
We know that good communication is essential in both landing and successfully completing projects. But in the environmental industry, many professionals enter the workforce with excellent technical knowledge and little business knowledge.
Presentations may be poorly designed, with a lot of text that covers too much information in hard-to-understand language. Your employee may be nervous, avoid eye contact and be inflexible in delivering their message based on audience reactions. The audience may interpret this behaviour as a lack of confidence in the ideas or findings.
The confidence of the presenter is a strong influencer on the audience’s confidence of the material presented.
Train your staff to make their presentations focused and clear. They must know the difference between essential information and nice-to-have information, and the knowledge to answer any questions that arise during a presentation. They must know their audience, what they want and what they already know. Have your staff practice their presentations until they are comfortable speaking without simply reading from their notes.
Get your staff’s communication skills up to speed effectively and efficiently with our Professional Communications course.
Is money (or a lack of it) getting in the way of much-needed training initiatives?
As part of the Economic Action Plan, the Canadian government recently launched the Canada Job Grant, a program that subsidizes two-thirds of training provided by eligible third-party trainers, up to $10,000. Learn more about how to apply for this funding by selecting your province or territory here.