*This article by INSTALL executive director David Gross was originally featured in the latest edition of ProInstaller.
As floor covering businesses transition from the transactional leadership style of the past to the transformational style of the present, one skill in particular is essential in industry training at every level: effective communication.
The curious thing about effective communication is that everyone thinks they know what it is. Many would define it simply as talking to someone and they know exactly what you mean. That’s effective communication, right?
Well, not exactly.
A foreman could tell an installer they did a terrible job with surface prep and now the luxury vinyl on a project isn’t adhering properly and the whole schedule for the month is blown. The installer would likely know precisely what the foreman meant, but does that make the foreman’s communication effective? Not really.
Effective communication in this scenario would have started long before the installation began — and helped to prevent the subpar surface prep in the first place. Early communication between foreman and installer would have revealed the installer’s skills gap, provided an opportunity to teach proper installation, and likely avoided the error, along with avoiding a hit to the contractor’s reputation and disgruntled feelings between the foreman and installer.
This is what effective communication looks like, and it’s just one example of why it’s so important to workplace culture and business success.
How Businesses Benefit from Effective Communication
Just as you formally train your personnel on soft skills like building relationships, working with a growth mindset, and understanding profit margins, training them how to communicate effectively and collaboratively is also critical to your business’s growth and long-term success.
“We teach folks the communication skills that are normally not taught until graduate school,” noted Randy Eppard, executive director of education and training at the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC) International Training Center (ITC).
To change workplace culture to one that values effective communication and benefits from it, Eppard emphasizes the importance of training at all levels.
“We start by assessing emotional intelligence to help an individual see how they can improve their understanding of others,” explained Eppard, revealing the critical role that empathy plays in good communication.
To demonstrate the impact of training, here are a few of the many benefits that can be realized when you build a workplace culture around effective and collaborative communication:
- Employees feel heard, engaged, and valued. A big part of transformational leadership is building relationships with individual employees to better understand their strengths and weaknesses and help them grow professionally. Establishing open communication, in which an employee’s questions, concerns, and ideas can be voiced gives those in leadership roles the opportunity to understand and educate that employee. It also engages the employee in their work. Establishing this dynamic is essential for long-term employee retention.
- Relationships with contractors and suppliers are stronger. Floor covering installers and distributors rely heavily on their suppliers and contractors to make their businesses run smoothly and keep jobs and deliveries on schedule. But sometimes businesses get so focused on their own work that they forget to consider how others are impacted by what they do. Like you, your business partners have schedules to keep and issues to resolve. Communication training teaches leaders to be aware of the needs of others who impact your business. When empathy is part of regular communication, it helps ensure everyone gets what they need.
- Work quality is higher, and schedules are more dependable. Fostering an open dialogue between supervisors and installers helps head off installation problems by enhancing skills prior to the start of the job. Likewise, courteous communication with contractors and suppliers builds dependable service and on-time deliveries. When these converge, the result is higher quality work.
- Customers are happier. Naturally, when installation quality is high and work is completed on time, customers are happier, but communication is also key. As with all effective communication, it has to start early in the relationship with customers. It may be as simple as returning a call or quickly responding to an email request for an estimate. As the relationship evolves, effective communication is listening to the customer’s needs, solving logistical issues, or educating a customer about an installation technique or material. And during installation, communication is about the project schedule and addressing day-to-day issues. At each point, effective communication is predicated on empathy for the customer. It anticipates what the customer needs and proactively satisfies those needs throughout the project cycle. Communication training helps remind employees at every level that customers are the reason they are there and that it’s important to consider the customer’s feelings as part of their job.
- You differentiate yourself from the competition. How many times have you read a Google review in which a customer gushed about how much they appreciated being informed throughout a project? Even when something goes wrong during a project, customers are more likely to give a positive review if you were forthright about the issue and communicated with them about what you are doing to resolve it. Training your team to communicate with customers in this way distinguishes you from your competition, fuels word of mouth and encourages repeat business.
Once effective communication takes hold and becomes part of the way a business works, it sets off a cascading effect that produces noticeable and often measurable improvements in virtually every aspect of the enterprise.
“Fewer safety incidents, fewer absences, a sense of empowerment…this culture spreads,” summarized Eppard.
Finding Quality Communication Training
Chances are good that you already have a training resource for teaching the fundamentals of your business. If you do, start there and find out if communication training is offered.
Most training, especially for leadership roles, includes communication as an essential part of the program. For instance, foreman training should cover the roles of planner, production manager and crew supervisor and should also examine the role of effective communication in carrying out each of those responsibilities. Review the program highlights, and if you don’t see communication mentioned on the short list, you may want to find another training program.
Another way to distinguish a quality training resource, said Eppard, is to look at who is contributing to the content of the courses. Training that is guided by industry leaders, manufacturers and technical experts will help ensure what’s being taught will be relevant to the needs of your business.
Ultimately, everyone can benefit from communication training. The more personnel you include, the faster the communication culture will spread and produce benefits that will help your company grow.