Ineffective communication is not only costly to your firm but significantly limits growth potential.
Having worked with teams at every level in an accounting firm, from administrative to leadership, the greatest predictor of organizational success is the ability of its people to communicate effectively.
Effective communication creates trust thereby strengthening a team and allows for new ideas to be generated. This result is clear expectations, efficient teamwork, a strong culture, and ultimately, firm growth and increased revenue. On the other hand, ineffective communication erodes the core of any organization and can prevent you from achieving your growth goals.
So, how do you know if your firm is communicating effectively? A telltale sign of communication breakdowns is the presence of complaining. If complaining exists in your organization, chances are your firm suffers from communication gaps that you’ll want to resolve quickly before they start to cost your firm time and money. When team members in firms, or departments within firms, spend their time complaining, blaming, gossiping or even backstabbing, resentments ensue and the functionality of the team is compromised. Finding the path back to open, honest communication can be difficult without arming your team with the skills they need to be successful.
Add times of peak performance or tight deadlines (tax season) to the mix when emotions and stress can run high, and the situation worsens. Misunderstandings, short tempers and communication breakdowns can leave employees with bitter feelings that result in chronic complaining. This in turn has many ramifications that negatively affect the functionality of your teams.
A communication breakdown occurs when there is “unsaid”. Typically, people stop themselves from communicating when they are afraid to speak up. They may think to themselves: What if I offend somebody? What if I say something stupid? What if He/She thinks I’m being disrespectful? Or “I don’t think he/she is really interested in or willing to listen to what I have to say.” So, instead, they revert to complaining to someone else, typically a third party who is unrelated to the issue, in order to be heard and validate their position or complaint.
Think about the last time you complained to someone. How did it feel? Often times, you feel better because you’ve unloaded the concern, sought agreement and felt listened to. However, while complaining validates your position, it does not solve the problem at hand. Instead, the situation worsens because now more people are aware of the issue and even share in the complaint. And to top it all off, this type of behavior is contagious and can permeate the best departments and firms, becoming chronic. Chronic complaining is cancerous to your organization and you’ll want to prevent it at all costs. It infiltrates the mood of an organization and ultimately costs the company time, productivity, efficiency, and employee retention which, for accounting firms, all translate to money.
Here are some examples of communication breakdowns you may be able to relate to:
Mary feels like she is being micromanaged and isn’t afforded the opportunity for free-thinking or contributing at a higher level. Instead of having an open, honest conversation with her supervisor, she complains to her co-workers about how she is undervalued and her role has limited growth potential. Her supervisor thinks he effective in his role by being helpful to Mary and feels as though she likes the way he supervises.
Kevin is a highly valued employee who is seen as a go-to person at the firm because he has the reputation of getting things done. Because of this, he has a heavier workload than his peers but doesn’t communicate his priorities and deadlines when others make requests or assign him projects. Instead he stays late, goes home exhausted and complains to others about the inequitable distribution of work and unreasonable expectations at the firm.
Sue feels the compression of being a manager at her firm. She struggles to manage up and fulfill the expectations of her partner group while effectively managing down to inspire and motivate her team. Some of her partners make unreasonable promises to clients that unnecessarily burden her already over-worked team members. Sue cannot find her motivation to address this recurring issue with her partners and instead takes an us vs. them approach with her team. She sympathizes and complains with her team members to make the partner group seem unwilling to listen, uncaring and wrong.
If any of these scenarios ring true at your firm then you may be suffering from communication breakdowns and chronic complaints that cost your firm time and money. Complaining is the start of what we refer to as the three Rs: Resentment, Resistance and Revenge (in that order). A complaint is expressing resentment – the first step of the 3 Rs. If not brought to the correct person and dealt with, the complainer will begin to show resistance (step 2) and ultimately, revenge (step 3). In the example above, Mary seems moody or unfriendly around her supervisor. She has put a wall up – resistance. Eventually Mary calls in sick on a day her supervisor really needs her – revenge. Kevin refuses to share his struggles (resistance) eventually burns out and quits, having nothing good to say about the firm not only to employees but also to the online community (revenge). Sue and her team start to distrust the leadership team (resistance) therefore eroding dedication and commitment. Projects start to take longer, deadlines are missed and client satisfaction/retention suffers (revenge).
Every organization has some form of communication breakdowns. It’s important for the leadership team to be aware of them so they can be fixed before they start to cost you money. In professional service firms, the management team tends to be focused on exceptional client service, the latest and greatest in technology, achieving the short and long-term strategic goals, growth, talent acquisition, etc. – the list goes on and on. But are you listening to the conversations that your employees are choosing to have? Are employee conversations filled with complaints or are they supporting maximum productivity while being aligned with your firm culture? The conversational environment is the pulse of an organization and critical to your firm’s success.
So, what would your firm look like if it was void of complaint? What would happen if your team members solved problems instead of complaining about them? How would retention improve if team members felt listened to and empowered to be change agents at their firm? How would the lives of your leadership team improve by having a new level of shared responsibility and accountability with their staff? How would all of this impact your bottom line? All of this is possible when employees are armed with the training they need to communicate effectively.
Monestime Marketing, LLC partners with Radbill Consulting to provide training to professional service firms that want to reach their full potential. Our experience with accountants and attorneys allows us to deliver the desired results in a short amount of time. For more information visit www.monestimemarketing.com/coaching.