When poor communication happens to good employees


I am sure I am not alone in the realization that most of our management and leadership woes can be traced back to poor communication. The worst part is when a leaders’ poor (or lack of) communication has a negative impact on the front line employees (which is probably a lot!).

Jay Salazar is one of the maintenance guys at a place my wife rents to hold meetings. He’s consistently pleasant, easy going, and responsive to any requests we might have. He checks on us and remembers what we need from our last visit. We know that when Jay is there, things will be taken care of.

Except last week.

As she always does, my wife called the day before to ensure everything was ready to go. The person she normally talks to, Barbara, was not there, and she actually spoke to Barbara’s boss, Julie. Julie assured us she would pass the note to Barbara and we’d be all set.

That didn’t happen.

Julie didn’t pass the note to Barbara, who in turn did not pass the information to Jay.  Barbara was completely surprised when we walked in the door the next day. When we got to the room, Jay was there, however he was in the middle of replacing all of the light bulbs. He had no idea we were coming, either. Of course he was gracious and apologetic and helped us turn the room around in record time. Jay is a rock star.

Unfortunately, the all-to-often response in these situations is to take our frustration out on the person who is right in front of us… Maybe that’s why they are called the front line (of defense!)?

But that’s not right. Neither Jay nor Barbara had fault in this situation. The problem goes higher than that. In fact, there were multiple “dropped balls” concerning communication, and not passing along the note to Barbara was just the tip of the iceberg.

Turns out, the schedule that my wife set up of dates for the entire year had not been communicated to the staff. Not to Barbara and not to Jay. In addition, the room set-up diagram was out of date. (Jay was only getting right each month because he knew what it was supposed to be from working with us so often.). If we trace each of these missteps to their origin, we end up in the same place.

Julie. The boss.

When confronted, Julie placed the blame anywhere and everywhere except for her. It was kind of insulting.

If we didn’t know the back story, we would have simply shown up that day, assuming that Barbara and Jay were dummies who didn’t deserve to be employed, and we would weep in the face of poor customer service.  That’s not fair to Jay and Barbara.

Your job as a leader is to set people up for success, and in this case (and I’m guessing many) the lack of success was a direct result of simply not giving the employees the information they need to do their jobs correctly. Passing one note to one person would have saved at least 5 people a whole lot of undue stress, plus would have negated the topic for this post.

Here are few lessons I think we can take from this to avoid similar situations of our own.

  • Pass along information – Often you are the conduit to bring information to your employees.  Don’t clog the pipes!  Give people the information they need so they can be successful.
  • Know who needs to know – Nothing worse that being caught off guard or out of the loop. Think about everyone who might be impacted by the information you have… then tell them!
  • Take responsibility – We all mess up. The unfortunate reality is that Julie will not see that this is her fault, and will likely keep spreading the blame (and poor communication) among her staff.  Only when you realize that you are part of the problem can you become part of the solution.

Thanks for reading!

About the author: Matt Heller lives in Orlando, FL with his wife, Linda.  When not helping leaders lead, Matt enjoys Geocaching, playing drums and reading Carl Hiaasen novels.

2 thoughts on “When poor communication happens to good employees

  1. Very interesting article. I have been involved in a similar situation on several occasions. As always you provide basic and simple explanatory technique to try and avoid situations like this. It is hard to admit when the fault is our own.

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