The real cost of poor communication.

By Susan Saldibar

How many disasters might have been averted but for lack of communication? Does anyone really know? Here are a couple you may recall:

  • The Challenger explosion: caused by a failure to replace a defective “o” ring due to a communication glitch.  
  • The NASA Mars Probe overspend of $300 million: caused by one team member measuring in inches, the other in centimeters!

In the senior care world, while the dramatic element may be lower, the cost of poor communications hits hard. Poor communications with staff members can impact their sense of value and worth, resulting in a gradual disengagement that can ultimately impact their level of care to the resident. And, you may not even see it coming.

Consider that new employee, eager and ready to work hard. After onboarding, communications start strong and gradually fall off. At first everything seems fine. Then, a key meeting is missed. Then another. A task is not completed on time. A sick day is taken; and another. Then, seemingly overnight, your valuable employee is lost in the form of either a resignation or a termination you never wanted to have to make! Also lost, by the way, is all the hours of orientation and training. That’s the real cost of poor communications. Your most valuable asset — your people.

If you have to think about it, it needs fixing.

We spoke with Judy Finn, Director of Marketing at iTacit Healthcare, a Senior Housing Forum Partner. “One of the biggest staff retention issues we see in senior living communities is, not just the lack of communications, but the lack of realizing that there is a communications problem,” she says. “Even with the best of intentions, after the initial ‘honeymoon’ period, communications often become uneven. Or, they are overly automated, so that the human connection is lost.”

The good news is that most of these problems can be solved. And it doesn’t take rocket science. But management needs to take time to revisit their communications methodology and its impact on their team. Judy suggests five key questions to get ideas flowing in a positive way.

  1. Have you met Sarah? She may have been on board for weeks, yet many senior staff members may have only met her in passing. How can you ensure a healthy two-way communications flow with new hires. Being kept “in the loop” is essential.
  2. How often do you touch base with your team? Consider designating someone to officially broadcast announcements or messages throughout the day. Short weekly newsletters are effective for keeping all team members informed.  
  3. How do you positively reinforce the efforts of your team? Make it a point to let everyone know when a staff member reaches a milestone or does something special.
  4. How are procedural changes or new rules communicated? How do you ensure everyone understands them? This is where communication failure can have disastrous results. Don’t rely on paper announcements tacked on a bulletin board.
  5. How are meeting schedules communicated? Where are schedules posted? Meetings are often missed because employees are unaware or have forgotten them. Reminders are important.

Be authentic. Be informal. Be consistent.

“Yesterday’s ‘low tech’ methods and formal communications approaches are no longer as effective for today’s younger staff members,” says Judy. “They value authenticity over formality. You need to be personable; be real.”

Judy suggests regular communications, such as newsletters and employee recognition announcements. But nothing sticks that isn’t consistent. Have a schedule and maintain it. Connect informally. Make it clear to staff members that they don’t need a reason to sit down with a manager for a talk. No news may not be good news in some cases. Staff members who are “too quiet” may be preparing to leave. The more proactive and consistent your communications are, the better.

The 400-pound gorilla in the room.

Bring Your Own Device or “BYOD” has been a hot button issue since cell phones began proliferating the workplace. It won’t be long until the nagging security issues are ironed out and mobile employee communications will become standard. Are you ready?

“Being able to connect with your team throughout the day via a mobile network is an advantage that, in many cases, exceeds the risk of misuse,” says Judy. “The real question should be ‘what is the best way to do it?’” she asks. “Those who already have strong communications infrastructure, as well as policies and procedures in place, will be better prepared to convert to a mobile environment and will attract the best and brightest of today’s workforce,” she adds.

In the end, however, Judy reminds us that people will always trump technology. What you get out of them is what you put into them. Devise a communications program that hits all your key touch points and execute it consistently. Use technology when it makes sense. But remember, at the end of a long day, nothing can replace a smile and a “pat on the back” for a job well done.