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Communication Standards: A Universal Best Practice

The difference between personal and professional is that at work, the individual must subsume their individual ideas to the decisions vetted and implemented across the organization.

It follows that good management consists of communicating to the staff member what the realities of the organization are, as well as helping them to see where they can contribute despite the limitations on individual creativity. That work is accomplished by communicating and reinforcing a set of standards.

Once that task has been accomplished, the employee is well positioned to deliver “completed staff work,” which consists of:

  • reviewing requirements;
  • researching precedent and reference;
  • discussing the issue with subject matter experts and others as appropriate; and
  • summarizing the options briefly, with a recommendation and a justification.

The outstanding team member is the one who can do all this with an additional layer of diplomatic skill:

  • conveying respect for others;
  • indicating a welcoming attitude toward diverse ideas; and
  • politely but clearly conveying that not all feedback will necessarily become one of the options for action.

Unfortunately, regardless of how clearly the information is conveyed, employees may not feel sure of what is actually expected of them. When this happens, the root cause may be a lack of enforced best practice standards.

There are a variety of frameworks that your organization can use to establish and enforce standards and much depends on your industry, your leadership, and other contextual factors. Regardless of which approach you choose, having clear standards in hand will always help your employees to be productive at a higher level.

Why Communication Standards Are Necessary

Sometimes it may seem that standards specifically around the words we use, and even the types of images we select to represent the organization, are not necessary; “everybody knows” is a common response. (“Why do we have to write this down? Everybody knows how you do this,” or “Why is this a bad idea for a logo? It represents our type of company perfectly.”)

However, in the real world, there are numerous scenarios in which lack of clarity comes up, such as onboarding a new team member. There may also be differences in preference within the same work team that lead to individuals attempting to circumvent the standards and substitute their own.

The point is, these scenarios are not infrequent: They are the rule. When everyone can point to the same communication standard, they can not only deliver work that is excellent from the organization’s perspective, but they can also hold others accountable to the commonly shared viewed of what is “good” or “right” or “expected.”

Sometimes, regardless of how clearly we are told how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, we still have questions. In that case, make it acceptable for the employee to ask. Those questions may seem time-consuming, but in fact they help the organization to run according to logic rather than impulse by forcing people to reflect before acting. This is especially critical when we are flooded with emails and imminent deadlines.

The Benefit For Employee Retention

Psychological safety and organizational functioning are correlated. The workplace where employees can ask about communication standards, and enforce them with other community members, is one where team members are empowered, they feel a sense of control, and therefore they feel safe.

What Matters Gets Formalized: Consider A Leadership Council

When you consider the immense benefit of communication standards, or any quality standard, it follows that the organization should devote some time to talking about them, establishing them, promoting them, training team members to be literate in them, and forming a leadership council to measure and manage them, making adjustments as needed.

In today’s interconnected world, our realities are shaped by the words we use and the symbols we share. Establishing communication standards, through the formation of a leadership council and representative subject matter experts, is a powerful way to help the organization meet and exceed its performance goals.


By Dr. Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal. All opinions are the author’s own. Public domain. Photo by Wokandapix via Pixabay.


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