Q. The work and calls at my office are time sensitive, and people have to receive their messages immediately so they can return calls to people as soon as possible. Most people at the company seem to understand this but they all seem to have their own way to pass on messages. People choose to reply by text, email, voicemail, or even a note left on your desk or chair. We have “protocol” but issues remain when even a little circumstance changes. Some messages get through; others are delayed or reported in error. Staff are often angry at each other, but no one seems to have agreed on the right way or the best way to make sure calls get where they are supposed to. Are there rules around this?
A. The days of the pink message squares collected at the reception desk are long gone, and the state of urgency in the work place continues to increase. And when processes don’t work, mistakes happen, and employee frustration increases.
You have established protocol which is a good start. Is it in writing? Many organizations assume they have established practices of which all staff are aware, but they aren’t in writing anywhere. People “just know”. But the problem is that people don’t just know, and if it isn’t in writing processes are next to impossible to train for and to review. As you go through the exercise of putting the practice in writing, you may find that many exceptions arise, or disagreements about what the real process is, or how it should work. Keep the focus on the goal – get useful and correct information to people in a timely fashion so they can return calls. Different companies have different communications cultures. Define yours, and see if it changes by work groups.
How are the most urgent messages conveyed? This is often determined by where people are. Are you a company of people at their desks, or an organization of field people on the road? Do your voice mail and email systems communicate? Is a message left at someone’s office equal to a message left on their cell phone? What is your technology capable of, and does all your staff know how to use it? How many times do people in your office say, “I’ll try to transfer you but, if you get disconnected...”? How regularly do people come into the office?
These questions and more need to be answered to document the most effective method of communication. Your first run through may feel like you are playing “rock, paper, scissors” – forwarding the actual call live, beats cell phone voice mail, which beats office voice mail, which beats text, which beats email, which beats paper on your desk. Does that work for your organization or is there another order? What does the back-up plan look like? Are using two methods simultaneously worth the extra effort? Is it worth it if the CEO is leaving the message, or the one receiving the message?
Stay away from personal issues, or style issues. Remain focused on the goal as you determine the process steps, and realize that technology can help you if you define what is urgent, and everyone agrees on the process they have in writing.
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
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