How Your Firm Communicates Says A Lot About Its Culture

Four tips to strengthen your company's communication — and its culture

Is your company’s communication style building culture or breaking it down? It’s something I think about a lot, working as I do with firms in heavily detail-oriented industries. By nature, these firms are tracking hundreds of details about projects, of which any one of them can throw a monkey wrench into operations at any given time.

Many firms have proven to be quite adept at adjusting on the fly, shifting resources to solve tricky issues like supply chain hiccups or an influx of change orders. What they aren’t always as good at is keeping everyone on their own team informed about just-what-the-heck-is-going-on-around-here. Here’s the worst-case scenario of how that plays out:

  • Employees feel out of the loop and waste time chasing down information

  • Management is blindsided by field issues that ‘should have’ been escalated

  • The team is constantly in fire-drill mode because priorities keep shifting

KPMG’s Global Construction Survey echoes these points: “Despite considerable progress in installing and maintaining systematic project governance and controls, projects persistently fail to meet targets. Which points to one conclusion: engineering and construction firms and owners are struggling to keep up with the continued, rapid increase in project scale and complexity.”

The most successful firms create a culture of transparency and accountability by overcoming typical communication roadblocks. How does your company measure up?

Strengthen your company's communication with these four tips.

1. Look at the 4Ws of Performance Tracking

Take a look at how your firm manages the ‘who, what, when and why’ of performance tracking. You might be missing a golden opportunity to streamline performance management and boost morale.

2. Avoid the Goldilocks Conundrum

Too little communication is a recipe for disaster, or at least displeasure. People feel out of the loop when they miss critical information. Just 50% of A&E firms say confidence in the

accuracy of project status visibility is high or very high. If most of your project updates happen in the hallway on the way to the coffee room, that informality could place you at risk.

But over-communication can also be too much of a good thing. If your inbox has 1,462 unread emails, chances are there’s an epidemic of irrelevant updates going on. Just like baby bear’s porridge, your communication should strive to be just right.

3. Get Consistent

The best communication programs depend on structured sharing. Otherwise, your updates are likely to be all talk and no action. Tracking open items in a system of record and presenting those in a consistent, organized fashion reduces ambiguity and increases accountability. Everyone speaks the same language.

Maginox offers a streamlined report format that serves as meeting minutes, action tracker, and progress monitor all in one. Consistent outreach sets an expectation for proactive communication by encouraging people to get out in front of the report.

4. Right-size your Meetings

Everyone complains about too many meetings. A Harvard Business Review article shares that executives spend an average of nearly 23 hours a week in meetings, and 71% of senior managers say they’re “unproductive and inefficient.”

Many meetings are clearly way too long. But in some cases, longer meetings can actually be more productive (stay with me here). One client who took pride in its efficient meetings: 20 minutes, in and out. As it turns out, they would just discuss the top 10 or so projects that bubbled up to the top, leaving another 30+ unexamined… until dropped deadlines and budget overruns came back as major issues.

When they introduced a standardized project management report, meetings got longer, about an hour. But crises got under control. Because things changed so quickly, every project needed to be touched weekly giving the project managers a chance to think about any changes that recently took place —even if just to acknowledge no changes had occurred.

One interesting perspective likens meetings to a “cultural tax.” An executive explains, “If the alternative to more meetings is more autocratic decision-making, less input from all levels throughout the organization, and fewer opportunities to ensure alignment and communication by personal interaction, then give me more meetings any time!”

5. Create a Feedback Loop

Open communication boosts engagement. Much of corporate information-sharing is one-way. Encourage your team to ask questions. Panel discussions, anonymous question submittal, and lunch and learns provide an outlet for employees to raise topics before they become issues.

Here’s the best part. Clear communication serves as an accountability tool. That’s a big relief; people would rather understand expectations than operate in ‘CYA mode.’ But setting up a standardized communication loop tells your employees that you’re paying attention. And since 82% of construction industry firms expect workforce shortages to worsen, that helps recruiting and retention. When you take care of the little things, good things follow.