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Communication for improvement and growth

Many, many years ago, the managing director of the company where I worked accused me of being disloyal to said company.

I had participated as technical secretary in a regularly scheduled meeting with all the technical managers where we had the usual agenda of evaluating or planning past, current, and future projects or events. A problem came up that concerned my department. Deliveries were delayed or incorrect in too many cases, and support and customers were complaining. This was duly reported in the minutes of the meeting. All participants, plus a few higher placed managers or directors received a copy of the minutes. One technical manager distributed it to his support staff. This is where the managing director got angry. All participants at the meeting got a reprimand about being disloyal for discussing such problems. One other manager (why him, I cannot recall) and I were especially singled out and almost threatened with dismissal. My main fault was reporting the discussion.

At the same time, my manager sat down and read the minutes. When she saw that there was a problem, her reaction was to investigate it and see how we could find a way to avoid these delays and mistakes.

We got the problem fixed, and the technical managers, support, and, of course, customers, were all happy.

This was in the day when I did not have the title of technical writer, but I was always the one who documented everything (first in ASCII on a mainframe, and then in Waterloo script on a VM/CMS system, for the old-timers out there.)

I was rather young and naive at this point in my career, but I never forgot the episode. It taught me a valuable lesson, which some may consider very banal. Instead of hiding a problem even internally to other colleagues and departments, my manager faced the complaints and worked to find a resolution to the problems. We had not been aware of so many issues previously. Feedback had not flowed that well. I had a suspicion of some problems, but as I said, I was young, and inexperienced, and was not really sure how to handle problems like this in a large organization. When the issue was discussed in the meeting, I happily recorded it because I knew it would bring the focus that was needed to solve the problem. I had no idea that there would be any negative reaction!

This episode was a turning point for support, too. They learned to report problems because they knew that my department would take them seriously.

Experienced communicators who read this might laugh and consider this topic so elementary that it does not deserve any discussion. I disagree. My impression from email discussion groups over the years is that poor communication is still alive and kicking. Not everyone is open about the entire flow of a particular process. Not everyone is willing to take these processes up to evaluation on a regular basis to see whether there is room for improvement.

The need for basic, open, and straight-forward communication is so obvious and necessary – that we often forget it. Because of our forgetfulness, how many opportunities for improvement are overlooked?