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How you can use better communication to improve operational performance

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of

An international productivity survey has found that poor communication was the biggest cause of company inefficiencies. 1

The July 2006 survey report showed that poor interdepartmental communication was considered the worst inefficiency in many companies around the world. An average of 49% of respondents thought that communication was the leading cause of inefficiencies.

In the USA, the figure was 53%, in the UK it was 50%, Australia 46%, Asia 48%, and Canada 28%

Other related causes of inefficiencies were poor work planning and organization (44%), and poor employee motivation/morale (33%).

Proudfoot Consulting commissioned the Internet-based survey of 800 senior executives in 19 countries. Respondents gave their opinion based on a 5-point scale.

How can you help to find solutions to such communication inefficiencies? And why should you become involved in operational communication? After all, shouldn’t it be an operational responsibility?

The answer is that workplace communication is probably the most important communication of all – because it directly affects profitability, or in the case of government entities, their efficiency and effectiveness. And if operational managers aren’t addressing operational miscommunication problems, then it is legitimate for you as a public relations practitioner to initiate action in everyone’s interests by acting as a catalyst.

Operational miscommunication is widespread. Staff, especially frontline staff, in any workplace encounter daily delays, duplication and unnecessary cost. You would also have observed many daily examples of workplace miscommunication. The bigger the organisation, the bigger the waste. Such occurrences take place frequently between departments, and between head office staff and branch staff or field staff.

You may have previously ignored operational communication issues because you thought they didn't relate directly to your corporate PR job responsibilities, but you can actually get involved and make a difference.

(It is probably wise to first get clearance from your chief executive to follow up such situations; otherwise you may be perceived to be interfering in operational areas, which some people may consider to be outside your responsibility.)

In addition to your own observation, you can identify chronic miscommunication by asking frontline staff in interviews and focus groups. Ask them about the problems with potential bottom-line impact that seem to be caused by poor communication.

The next step is to quantify the cost of the operational waste caused by the miscommunication. You can gain approval to observe relevant interdepartmental and operational processes at close range and to talk to the staff about their communication as they work. Even office procedures are worth reviewing due the time they may be wasting – and salaries are being paid for that wasted time.

It would be prudent to seek approval from the relevant managers and supervisors in these activities and to discuss solutions with them. Their experience would be important in assessing the worth of the proposed changes and they are more likely to support the changes if they are part of the solution. 2

With the help of the local managers or supervisors, you can define each operational problem along with its cost in higher expenses or lost revenue each time it happens. If the main inefficiency is wasted staff time, the cost can be calculated by multiplying the hourly wage or salary rate of the relevant staff (including indirect costs such as employer contributions to their superannuation fund, etc) by the amount of their lost time for each episode.

By multiplying the cost of each episode by the number of times it happens, the total cost can be calculated for a given period of time. Then the cost of solving the problem by applying communication techniques can easily be calculated against the improvements achieved to give a very high rate of return for the PR effort.

All operational improvements resulting from such communication improvements can be quantified in financial terms by simply calculating the dollar impact of increased sales, higher productivity, improved safety, better quality, etc. The improvement can be calculated in terms of lower cost or higher revenue and should be communicated to senior management.

In every instance, the annual potential improvement would be far greater than the cost of PR staff who may be involved in the project, thus creating a very high and measurable return on investment (ROI). These figures build a strong case for senior management support for the public relations department as well as increased respect from operational management.


  1. Proudfoot 2006 Productivity Report at
  2. Sinickas, Angela D. “Communications, meet operations.” Journal of Employee Communication Management- May/June 1999. Retrieved from


About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website,, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.


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