6 steps to smooth workflow | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 18, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, January 18, 2011

Talk of the Office

6 steps to smooth workflow

BRAC Bank employees at a branch at Gulshan 2 in Dhaka. Active communication skills should be part of every successful executive's toolkit. Photo: Amran Hossain

Just before Japan's Dec. 7, 1941 invasion of Pearl Harbour, the Americans' main mid-Pacific naval base, the first 50 Japanese warplanes approaching Hawaii were picked up by two US Army radar operators.
They told their superior they were seeing many blips on their screen. The lieutenant replied, “Don't worry about it.” He assumed the readings came from a dozen US B-17 bombers scheduled to arrive that day from California.
The first Japanese sortie took out nearly every US fighter plane on the island. The next waves crippled many exposed warships -- much of the US's Pacific force.
Had the Americans scrambled their fighters sooner, the battle might have ended much differently. What if the radar operators been more specific? If they reported their actual reading of 40 or 50 planes, instead of calling it “the biggest sightings” they'd ever seen, the lieutenant might have realised the flights were not routine.
The mistake? Too little information. The radar men didn't give their boss all the data they had. And the lieutenant jumped to a conclusion before getting enough detail.
The result was a tragedy for the US; a lucky break for Japan. But perhaps you can think of incidents in your own business when people's failure to provide or drill for details resulted in misplaced assumptions and bad decisions.
No one is immune from personal-communication errors. But to avoid most mixed messages, try this.
1. Take responsibility for the success of your communications. When one person misunderstands another, both share the blame. If you think other people just aren't “getting it,” make your communications more clear and clean.
2. Commit to communicating more cleanly. Use simpler, more “active” language. Get rid of passive verbs (“It has been decided by the committee that your hiring will not be proceeded with.”) Ban vague, long-winded explanations that put listeners and readers to sleep (“In order to achieve budgeted quarterly objectives, the following initiatives have been approved for adoption by business units in Areas 10 and 12…”
3. Clarify that others have understood what you are saying. Pause to ask, “Are you getting all this?” or, more politely, “Do you have any questions?”
4. Make sure you understand what others are telling you. “Active listening” skills should be part of every successful executive's toolkit. When someone tells you they want X, ask questions that demonstrate you've been listening and want to get it right. “So what you're saying is, you want X … right?”
5. Put the key details on paper or in an email, or in an online or intranet-based project tracker. People's memories are imperfect, and those who take notes rarely read them. Avoid the confusion of divergent memories by summing up your key points of agreement in a follow-up document.
6. Specify a date by which colleagues should get back to you -- or leave a comment on the project tracker -- if they disagree with or don't understand any details.

Adapted from: http://www.iqpartners.com/WhyIQPartners/IQPNews_Sep_2010_disconnect.html

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