Once Ain’t Enough!

communication cost of misunderstanding in business downtime effective communication leadership leadership culture leadership development poor communications profit profitability profitability killers return on investment soft skills Mar 22, 2023
poor communications

One communication issue I’ve seen kill profitability as much as any other ties directly back to the illusion George Bernard Shaw referenced; we can’t assume we’ve gotten our message across just because we shared it once!

Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m only gonna say this one time!”? Here’s another question that will require more than a little bit of honesty: How often have you said that? I can assure you that I’ve made that statement just as much as anyone! If you don’t believe me, just ask Cindy or our son… What I’m sure I don’t have to ask here is whether or not you believe that could ever be a realistic expectation. If you have kids, or even if you’ve ever been around kids, you know it’s not. 

One of the most important lessons I learned in all those years of behavior-based safety is that a 47 year old usually does things for the same reasons as a 7 year old. I don’t say that to belittle the 47 year old (or the 7 year old), just to emphasize that we all tend to act according to what’s expected of us and saying something once will rarely be sufficient - especially if we need a specific action taken based on that message.

In lessons two and four of our Emerging Leader Development course, we open by citing statistics John Maxwell shared on the first page of his 2010 book, Everyone Communicates, Few Connect:

  • “We’re bombarded with thirty-five thousand messages a day.’
  • "Most people speak about sixteen thousand words each day.”

After sharing those, I challenge participants to consider how much the first has increased since John wrote the book over a decade ago. Then I ask them to consider what they’re doing to make sure the messages they need their teams to receive and act on ever make it through all that noise…

A painful reality that compounds how much profitability poor communication can kill is that few organizations tie it directly to what they typically measure. In all my time in manufacturing, we kept meticulous records of things like scrap, downtime, tooling replacement costs, and nearly anything else you can imagine. If we had ever worked through a 5 Why Analysis for any one of those things, I have no doubt that someone has misunderstood something somewhere along the line! But since that would have fallen into the touchy-feely category, I’m not sure anyone would have taken it seriously. Truth be told though, I believe the real reason would have been because they wouldn’t have known how to do anything about it…

If you’ve ever had one of God’s chicken sandwiches, your Thank You was acknowledged with a My Pleasure. And because that's just what we’ve come to expect at Chick-fil-A, it’s hard to imagine anything else. It wasn’t always that way though! I heard Jeff Henderson share the real story of how long it took Truett Cathy to make the cultural change from the traditional You’re Welcome. This wasn’t something Truett said once like it was written on a stone tablet he had received on the mountaintop; it took 10 years!

If we want to capture any of that profit lost to poor communication, we cannot take the “I’m only gonna say this once” approach. Even then though, we’ll still need a lot of support from every team member around us so that’s where we’ll pick up next time.