Effective communication skills isn’t a “soft” issue; it’s a real business challenge with significant consequences.
Effective communication skills — it sounds like a “soft” issue, right? Hardly. In fact, the inability to communicate clearly and productively with a diverse audience is creating serious business consequences for organizations every day.
Just think about how much of your workday involves communication. Conference calls, face-to-face meetings, formal presentations, casual conversations, emails, text messages — it’s how you get the job done. Every leader or professional has to rely on effective communication skills to influence, inspire and collaborate so they can meet client needs and achieve business goals.
None of this is news to business executives or even to most hiring managers. How many job descriptions mention “strong communication skills,” in one form or another? But the reality is, many people won’t come to the role with the interpersonal skills required to succeed in today’s increasingly collaborative environment. According to a survey by Adecco, 44% of senior executives believe employees lack essential soft skills like communication, creativity, critical thinking and collaboration.
That doesn’t mean these employees are a lost cause. Effective communication skills can be developed through training programs, but organizations have to start placing a priority on it. And the urgency is real. While these so-called soft skills get the back-burner treatment, companies are paying the price — one that can quickly add up.
The High Cost of Poor Communication Skills
A report by The Economist Intelligence Unit looking at communication barriers in the modern workplace found that poor communication can result in delayed or failed projects (44% of respondents), low morale (31%), missed performance goals (25%) and lost sales (18%) — some worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. In another study, SIS International Research did the math and found that the cumulative cost per year due to productivity losses resulting from communication barriers is more than $26,000 per employee. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. A business with 100 employees spends an average downtime of 17 hours a week clarifying communications. Translated into dollars, that’s more than $530,000 a year.
As the authors of the SIS study point out, “Consider that 40% of the work week is lost to these communications inefficiencies and that the majority of respondents are in customer-facing and decision-making roles. The negative impact on critical business processes, new revenue, and customer satisfaction becomes painfully apparent.”
While technology makes it easier to connect, it doesn’t solve the problem. In fact, it can create more opportunities for misunderstandings and even become a crutch for avoiding human interaction. The upshot is that, while effective communication skills have always been important, today’s leaders and professionals need to be even more skilled at how they connect, persuade and motivate others to action. They need to influence both inside and outside the organization. They need to understand how different people communicate and be able to adapt in the moment to make sure everyone’s on the same page. And all of this means they need to develop some new skills.
Many top-level leaders recognize that there is a need for communications skills training. Eighty-nine percent of executives in the Adecco survey said that training programs could help bridge the communication and collaboration skills gap, and six out of ten respondents in The Economist’s report say firm-wide training needs to be implemented to build effective communications skills. The key is to prioritize and invest the organization’s time and money in development efforts that will really pay off.
Right now, communication barriers and breakdowns in your organization could be threatening productivity, engagement and retention, customer loyalty, profitability and more. What are you doing to put effective communication skills on the “front burner” of your development strategies?
Before you invest in communications training, make sure you consider these 8 questions.
Vice President, Client Development
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