Today's focus: Don't stop talking

I don't need to tell you that we're in one of the toughest economic periods our industry has been through. And the tendency right now is to put your nose to the grindstone and work, work, work. And that's a great policy. But remember to keep talking to people around you, both inside and outside the industry.

Many workers feel that they should be seen not heard to keep their jobs. I disagree. I think that communication is key and if everyone goes silent, businesses cannot succeed. Learning and innovation are thwarted when employees are on a treadmill.

You still need people to think about how to move the business forward.

How do you do this? Here are my suggestions.

1. Talk to your employees. The more communication you have with your staff, the more you will learn how to improve workflow. If you create a closed-door policy because "everyone should be working," then you are cutting off any chance you have of learning how to make things better. For instance, if one of your employees is afraid to suggest that a process they use is inefficient, then they are going to continue with the inefficiency, therefore sacrificing company time and money. A simple conversation once a week could avert this situation.

2. Have your employees talk to each other. Telling employees to just head to their desks is not the policy you want to enforce right now. Chances are your upper management has been meeting to figure out how to cut expenses and are getting tapped out of ideas. If you encourage your employees to talk amongst themselves about ways to improve processes or cut costs, then you are helping them feel part of the corporate culture. Also, they will report back to you with their suggestions and you can help promote your department to upper management as being concerned about the company's bottom line. Together you can brainstorm to make things better and again, you'll learn more about your team's efforts.

3. Use your peers as a sounding board. During these times, you should be meeting with your peers - managers on your level - to brainstorm cost-saving ideas. Just keeping to your department can start seem like you're operating in a vacuum and that can lower morale. You can learn a lot by explaining your processes to another manager and seeing how they would handle the situation. Offer them the same service - maybe you'll see something in their plans that could be improved. Creating a team environment among your peers can only help the overall corporate culture.

4. Establish communication with your managers. Make sure that your managers know the approach you're taking. Tell them why it's important that you have open discussion with your team and with your peers. If you begin to report back some of the ideas that you've gathered, chances are they will support your decision. Anything that makes their jobs easier - including cost-savings options - they will be grateful for. And remember to give your team and peers feedback on how your managers react to their ideas. Keeping the information flowing both ways is critical for continued success.

5. Discuss your ideas with friends outside the company.

Sometimes you'll have ideas that are confidential and talking about them to people within the company would break that confidentiality. Pick a friend or friends who you can lay out your plans to and then listen to their responses carefully.

Don't discount someone who is not in the same position or who does not have experience in your industry. Some of the best ideas come from people who are not entrenched in networking.

They have a fresh viewpoint that is hard to find.

With all of this communication, you will be able to learn the ins and outs of your business and make solid suggestions for change. Talking and listening are tools for learning, so consider this an important education.

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