Business Operations Manager
Key Skills
Project Management
Budgeting
Project and Process Engineering

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you can’t have missed the fact that Thanksgiving happened in the USA. And with Thanksgiving came Black Friday, often seen as the start of the Christmas shopping season. Here in South Africa we may not celebrate Thanksgiving, but the barrage of Black Friday (and Cyber Monday) offers brought a little bit of that American tradition to our shores.

In homes across America, families sat down to turkey and stuffing. Before they tucked in, many would have taken a moment to reflect on what they were thankful for. It’s a nice custom, giving pause in busy lives to be grateful for what really matters in life. However grave the world situation, most people have no trouble expressing gratitude for those special people and happenings in their lives.

We at Highveld thought we’d compile our catalogue of reasons to be thankful, as we approach the “season of goodwill”. Despite Trump, Brexit, our own delicate political situation, Cape Town’s drought, and the dire performance of the Boks at the moment (their recent defeat of Italy notwithstanding), the world is not such a bad place, even for businesses. So here is our list.

  1. The festive season is nearly upon us.

Yes, we know this means the kids are running around needing to be fed and entertained, and you may be sitting in a car for an interminable length of time as you head to the coast, but everyone loves the festive season. It’s the one time of year we truly switch off, unwind and recharge. Take a break. You’ve earned it. Enjoy the seasonal food and drink and have a snooze by the pool in the middle of the day. There’s probably still a lot to do before the year-end, but the finish line is in sight and you will soon be on leave.

  1. Zimbabwe has a new leader.

There are many ways to look at this. Some feel that one dictator has simply been replaced by another. Some believe the whole “coup” was orchestrated by the Americans and/or the Chinese. Only time will tell if Zimbabwe will truly see change. But for now, you only have to look at the jubilation of Zimbabweans to know that the resignation of Robert Mugabe and the inauguration of Emmerson Mnangagwa as the new president has introduced new hope for the future of the country.

  1. We have great clients and contractors.

We wouldn’t be in business if it weren’t for you, our clients and contractors. We are grateful for your support and for the value you add to society. Whether you are an employer producing a product or service and providing jobs for South Africans, or a professional providing scarce skills and sharing those skills with young professionals, you are the engine of our economy and we salute you.

  1. We have great suppliers.

We couldn’t do what we do without a reliable supply of the goods and services we need to keep our business going. We are grateful for the business solutions and goodwill you bring to us and for the strength of our relationships.

  1. Our employees are among the best.

Without the dedication and hard work of our staff we couldn’t provide the services to our clients that we are known for. Our staff give of their best and this allows us to let our clients focus on what they do best. We are tremendously proud of the team here at Highveld and Rosstone and grateful for their commitment and enthusiasm.

  1. Technology is a boon.

Sure, there are times when we wish modern technology didn’t enable us to be contactable 24/7; and social media has its disadvantages. But for the most part, technology has facilitated innovation and creativity in business, and has improved communication and put more power in the hands of the customer. Properly harnessed, technology is a powerful tool with the potential to add real value to any business.

  1. South Africans are resilient.

The tougher things get, the more South Africans engage. We are grateful to live in a society where, despite the challenges, communities pull together in time of need, and people help each other out.

  1. Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters was crowned Miss Universe!

We have some reservations about the validity of “beauty contests”, when violence against women and discrimination are still social problems that beset us. The objectification of the female body and the worship of conventional beauty are problematic. Nonetheless, the crowning of Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, from Sedgefield in the Western Cape, is a huge boost for South Africa on the global stage. Nel-Peters intends to use her reign to champion HIV/AIDS and self-defence causes, and we applaud this.

What are you thankful for? Let us know in the comments section below.

World AIDS Day – where are we now?

In 2004, antiretroviral therapy (ART) became available, for free, in the public health sector to people living with HIV. At that point in time, an HIV-positive individual had to have a CD4 cell count (a measure of the strength of the immune system) below a certain threshold to be eligible for treatment. Over the years that threshold has been steadily raised, meaning people could access treatment earlier, before they were sick, until today government (and WHO) policy is “test and treat” – in other words, as soon as someone tests positive for HIV, they are entitled to antiretroviral treatment. This significantly reduces the risk…and the cost to the health system…of opportunistic infections that occur when the immune system has become severely compromised by the virus; and it enables people living with HIV to continue living full, active lives.

So does this mean HIV is no longer the national health crisis it once was? Is HIV just another treatable chronic condition like diabetes and hypertension (the non-communicable diseases that are rapidly becoming the most pressing health concerns for South Africans)? Are we on the way to the “end of AIDS”, as some prophesy? While we have made great advances in both our understanding of the virus and our treatment programmes, unfortunately the answer is not that simple. Let’s look at where we are now, as we mark World AIDS Day on 1 December

First, the good news

It is important to remember that World AIDS Day is not a celebration. It is more fitting to think of it as a day of commemoration. According to the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC), it is an opportunity for communities to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for those living with the virus, and remember those who, sadly, have lost their lives to it.

Here in South Africa we have the biggest and most high-profile HIV epidemic in the world. In 2016 an estimated 7.1 million people were living with HIV in the country. Prevalence (the proportion of individuals in a population having a disease at any point in time) among adult South Africans is 18.9%. One third of all new infections in the region last year were here in SA – 270,000 new infections. And unfortunately 110,000 South Africans died from AIDS-related illnesses last year. So talk of “the end of AIDS” is not only premature but unhelpful, as it diverts attention away from the challenges we still face.

But there are some reasons to celebrate. South Africa has the largest antiretroviral treatment programme globally and this is financed by our national treasury. We invest more than R20 billion annually to run our HIV/AIDS programmes. This is important because it means we are not dependent on international donors to fund treatment, with the associated risk of financial support being withdrawn when donor priorities shift.

Among adults age 15-59, 86% of people are aware of their HIV status. In 2016, more than 3 million people were receiving ART, or 56% of people living with HIV in the country. In 2012, just 31.2% of people living with HIV were on ART. So the statistics point to the success of the treatment programme and the slow but gradual elimination of stigma, one of the biggest barriers to being tested and knowing one’s status. Stigma has also historically been an obstacle to accessing treatment, but as the figures show, more and more people who know their status are on ART. So testing remains a priority; it’s impossible to be treated for a condition that has not been diagnosed. And viral suppression, which results from treatment adherence, is an important component in the prevention toolkit. Research has shown that virally suppressed individuals are extremely unlikely to transmit the virus to their partners, even without condom use.

Room for improvement

Despite the good news, the rate of new infections (“incidence”) is still unacceptably high. Although we all know how HIV is transmitted, we are not doing all we can to protect ourselves and our partners. While there are key populations that are particularly vulnerable to HIV, and our National Strategic Plan recognises and addresses the issues surrounding these affected groups, this year’s World AIDS Day theme focuses on personal and collective responsibility to prevent new HIV infections.

We are all responsible

SANAC has called for all South Africans to get behind World AIDS Day 2017 and put the prevention of HIV and TB back on the agenda. It is down to all of us to continue the fight against stigma and encourage testing in our workplaces and our communities. Knowing one’s status is the first step to defeating HIV/AIDS. Regular testing is one of the most important things we can all do to prevent HIV.

In 2016, self-testing kits became legally available in South Africa. As easy and quick as a home pregnancy test, self-testing kits can be bought at any pharmacy for less than R100. Nurse-administered HIV tests are also available, usually without appointment, at any Dischem or Clicks.

Support World AIDS Day 2017. Know your status.

For more information on World AIDS Day click here

For more information on self-testing for HIV click here or here

Monday, November 20th is Africa Industrialisation Day, designated by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation to raise global awareness of the challenges faced by the continent with regard to industrialisation. At an event to be held in Vienna, attended by African ministers, ambassadors, senior policymakers, UN organisation representatives, entrepreneurs and representatives of civil society and academia, the UN aims to mobilise African leaders and international organisations to drive the sustainable industrialisation of Africa.

Under the theme “African Industrial Development: A Pre-Condition for an Effective and Sustainable Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA)”, the meeting will review the industrial challenges faced by Africa, with special attention paid to industrial development as a foundation for the implementation of the CFTA.

South Africa enjoys a level of industrialisation ahead of most of its continental peers, so why should we care about Africa Industrialisation Day or the CFTA?

Some numbers

The African continent is the second most populated continent in the world, with over 1.2 billion inhabitants, or 16% of the world’s population. Yet Africa accounts for less than 2% of international trade and global manufacturing. The continental economy is largely founded on its mineral wealth, but unfortunately the extraction of minerals does not on its own create economic prosperity. Over the last decade, Africa has enjoyed an annual average growth rate of 5%, with some countries reaching more than 7%.[1] But that growth has been based mainly on commodity exports and extractive industries and has not contributed to socioeconomic transformation. Sadly, most of the benefits of this healthy growth rate have been experienced by only a small proportion of the population.

Those who prosper are those who add value to commodities through manufacture. We need inclusive and productive sector-led growth to lift people out of poverty and allow vulnerable communities to benefit from and contribute to the economy. Inclusive and sustainable industrial development (ISID) has been acknowledged in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as vital to helping Africa overcome its critical development challenges, within Sustainable Development Goal 9 (SDG9), which calls for the construction of resilient infrastructure and the promotion of sustainable industrialisation and innovation.

What is the CFTA?

In the first decade of the millennium, only about 10-12% of Africa’s trade took place with other

African countries. That’s a lot of economic potential being exported to other parts of the world. To increase cooperation between African countries, at the 2012 AU Summit, Heads of State and Government agreed to establish a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) and endorsed an Action Plan on Boosting Intra-Africa Trade (BIAT). The Plan identified seven areas of cooperation: trade policy, trade facilitation, productive capacity, trade-related infrastructure, trade finance, trade information, and factor market integration. In June 2015, at the 25th AU Summit, held here in South Africa, negotiations were launched on the creation of the CFTA, with the aim of liberalising trade in goods and services. The hope is that expanded markets for African goods and services, unobstructed movement, and reallocation of resources would promote economic diversification, structural transformation, technological development and the enhancement of human capital.

Trade alone is not enough

Increasing the share of African trade that stays on the continent is one factor that will contribute to economic growth, but it is not the only thing that must happen. Historically, industrialisation has been the most effective means of reducing poverty, because of the associated employment opportunities, productivity gains, and wage increases.[2] No developing country has made the transition to developed country without industrialising.

Socially responsible growth

Two years ago the United Nations launched a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, calling for industrialisation to be inclusive and sustainable. What this means in practice is that industrialisation in Africa must take place within a robust social and environmental policy framework. An approach that includes corporate social responsibility (CSR) may help to facilitate greater distribution of the benefits of industrialisation; and energy- and resource-efficiency requirements at policy level will contribute to sustainability.

The World Economic Forum believes multi-stakeholder partnerships are key to achieving sustainable development, bringing together major players in the development process: governments, bilateral and multilateral development agencies, national and international development finance institutions, the private sector, civil society, and even academia. It sees the private sector as a crucial role player, with the capacity and expertise to make a significant contribution to international development efforts through investment and CSR initiatives. Fruitful industrialisation and sustainable growth on the continent won’t happen without South-South cooperation and regional economic integration, which the CFTA aims to support.

The CTFA is scheduled to come into effect by the end of this year, to “create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, and thus pave the way for accelerating the establishment of the Customs Union”,[3] according to the African Union. If it does, we will all benefit from the increased trade opportunities, and from the industrialisation and subsequent development that will ultimately result from regional economic integration. And that’s why we should care about Africa Industrialisation Day and the CFTA!

For more information on the CTFA, click here and here.

For more information on Africa Industrialisation Day, click here.

[1] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/09/how-can-africa-achieve-sustainable-industrial-development/

[2] Ibid

[3] https://au.int/en/ti/cfta/about

Business Book Review:

Start With Why – Just Don’t Bother to Finish

Some years ago, the Saturday magazine of a popular UK newspaper ran a regular feature called “The Digested Read”. The feature writer would synthesise the plot of a full-length book in a single paragraph. At the end of the mini-review was one more section, called: “The Digested Read, Digested”, in which the entire book was neatly encapsulated in one line.

Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, by Simon Sinek, can be summed up in one sentence: “To be successful, know why you do what you do.” Now this does in fact make sense, good sense, but unfortunately the book labours the point to exhaustion, illustrating it with story after story – mostly about Apple and the Wright Brothers – until you start to wonder why you are still reading.

The Golden Circle

Sinek talks a lot about the “Golden Circle”. No, he is not an avid rock concert fan. He uses the metaphor to describe methods of organisational communication. Most companies, says Sinek, communicate from the outside in. They know what they do, and if they are lucky, they know how they do it – their USP. These features and benefits make up the majority of marketing and sales pitches: “We make computers. They are beautifully designed and easy to use and competitively priced. Wanna buy one?” Making good products and selling them at a better price than your competitors will win business and generate success…for a while. But, he argues, they don’t drive behaviour and therefore will not create loyal customers, customers who will buy your product even if it costs more than the competition.

Companies that communicate from the inside out know why they do what they do, and that “why” is the reason to buy. The “what” and “how” simply provide the rational reasons for it. Sinek is clearly a big fan of Apple, and uses the organisation repeatedly to demonstrate the principle of “why”. From the start, Apple set out to challenge the status quo, to “think different”. Every product they launched was (at least in Steve Jobs’s day; the jury is still out on Apple’s future post-Jobs) a completely re-imagined, innovative, “think outside the box” way of redesigning an existing product. From the “1000 songs in your pocket” iPod to the touchscreen smart phone, Apple brought us products we didn’t even know we wanted. And the people who buy Apple products buy them because they believe in the same values, even if the irony is that now there is nothing extraordinary or innovative about having an iPhone. But Apple still inspires fierce loyalty among its customers, in a way its competitors don’t. And Apple’s core sense of “why” is what allows it to define itself not as a company that makes computers, but as a company that challenges the status quo, and therefore to enter markets outside the scope of what it appears to do. When Dell, by contrast, attempted to expand its offering beyond personal computers, it failed. Why? Because no one could understand why a computer company wanted to sell PDAs and mp3 players. Dell defines itself by what it does, Apply by why.

What does this have to do with leaders?

You could be forgiven for thinking the book’s title is misleading. Sinek talks at such length about companies and sales that Start With Why reads much more like a marketing textbook than a book about great leadership. He does mention Martin Luther King and his charismatic leadership style early in the book, but other than that you will have to get more than halfway through before the subtitle becomes meaningful. Leaders, like organisations, need to know why they do what they do…why they get out of bed in the morning…if they are to lead and inspire others. Anyone can lead with energy, and there is no denying that energy motivates. But motivation is short-lived, and must be constantly renewed. Leaders who have a belief in a purpose or cause bigger than themselves have charisma, and charisma inspires. Sinek says, “When a WHY is clear, those who share that belief will be drawn to it and maybe want to take part in bringing it to life. If that belief is amplified it can have the power to rally even more believers to raise their hands and declare, ‘I want to help.’”

How and what

However, just knowing why you do what you do, either as a leader or an organisation, is not enough. The WHY types inspire, but it takes HOW types to bring the vision to life. Every great leader needs a good team of managers under him or her who can figure out how to operationalise the WHY, and a team of employees willing and able to produce the WHATs. And those employees and managers need to share the values and believe in the WHY, so they too know why they get up and come into work every morning. Sharing the values and beliefs of the leader will keep employees loyal and committed, because they are working not for the leader but for themselves – for what they believe in.

No time to read?

And that is the message of the book. There are lots of entertaining stories to illustrate these points, and some biology about the limbic brain, where we make decisions, which is quite thought-provoking but not critical to understanding the book’s fundamental proposition. The book itself is big on why, and not so big on how, so it’s not an aspiring leader’s self-help or how-to book (despite the subtitle). And none of the messages are really novel, though they are interestingly enough presented and there’s no harm in being reminded of these salient marketing principles. It’s an easy  read, if the repetition, slightly clumsy writing and Apple worship don’t bother you; but did it really need to be 225 pages long? If you don’t have several hours to spare to read the book, but can spare 18 minutes, watch Simon Sinek give a digested TED talk on the topic. You’ll learn all you need to know. And if you need the digested version digested, there’s an edited, five-minute TED talk by Sinek.

It’s worth watching. Then again, if you’ve read this far, you’ve probably learned what you need to know from Start With Why.

I am text block. Click edit button to change this text. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

Senior Design Draughtsman
Key Skills
Contract Management
Coordinating
Leadership
Microstation
Prosteel 3D Version 17

Many of us put our hands up to take part in volunteer activities every July, when Mandela Day rolls round. It’s not hard to find 67 minutes to help others, and most people actually spend considerably more than 67 minutes on their Mandela Day good deeds. But how many of us sustain that annual effort with regular unpaid work that benefits our communities and our society? Volunteering not only helps the beneficiaries, it’s good for the volunteers and companies too!

Stay healthy, live longer

According to Dr Dawn Carr, a social gerontologist who studies health and ageing, people who volunteer are healthier and live longer. Now this connection may seem tenuous, but it makes sense if you think about it. Once you retire, particularly if you are your own, it can be hard to replace the meaning and the social contact work provided. Volunteering is a way of staying active, connected and of continuing to make a contribution to society. But most people who volunteer in retirement are those who got into the volunteer habit earlier in life. So if you want to reap the health benefits of volunteering in retirement, you need to establish meaningful volunteer roles now.

 

Good for companies

Employee volunteering is an entrenched part of Corporate Social Investment (CSI) schemes. According to Trialogue, the CSI consultancy, 70% of CSI research respondents included corporate Employee Volunteer Programmes (EVPs) in their CSI strategy in 2015. (Source: Trialogue) Community benefit is the most valued impact of the schemes, but reputation, brand value, return on investment, and staff retention and development are all seen as drivers for and impacts of EVPs. Employee volunteering benefits companies indirectly too: employees’ professional and leadership skills are developed and enhanced, particularly through skills-based volunteering. So whether you are an employee or a company director, employee volunteering can help to advance your career and your business.

 

What is an Employee Volunteer Programme?

Trialogue defines an Employee Volunteer Programme as “any formal or organised company support for employees who wish to give of their money, time and/or skills in service of the community.” (Source: Trialogue) EVPs seek to motivate and enable employees to serve community needs through the leadership of the employer. Colleen du Toit, CEO of the Charities Aid Foundation Southern Africa (CAFSA), said, “… employee volunteering…is a means to influence socially responsible business practice and create shared value for business and society. Employee engagement is playing an increasingly strategic role in how companies work to improve their communities.” (Source: NGO Pulse)

 

All for a good cause

EVPs can be rigidly structured or completely flexible. Some companies adopt a matched giving approach, where employees can support whatever cause is closest to their hearts, and the company will match the employee’s contribution, either money or time. Others organisations prefer to lend their support to causes linked to business strategy. For example, the Industrial Development Corporation’s Employee Volunteering programme encourages employees to get involved in socio-economic initiatives to alleviate development challenges faced by communities. IBM South Africa champions innovative approaches to teaching and learning science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Some organisations allow paid time off for volunteering – up to a certain number of hours or days per year.

How to make it work

If your organisation does not already have an EVP, or if you are looking to further develop one that is in place, here are a few tips to make it work:

  • Engage your employees. They are much more likely to want to participate if they support the cause and/or have had a say in its selection. Gather information about their existing community involvement via intranet or email survey. You could ask employees to nominate a cause or sector.
  • Ensure a good fit between your organisation and the non-profit(s) you elect to support. If you have a lot of employees then a small community-based organisation (CBO) may not be appropriate, if they will not be able to make use of all the resources you can offer. You want to find a non-profit that has an impact on the community, and one on which you can also have an impact.
  • Like any business activity, an EVP needs a plan and a budget. Before you approach potential partner organisations, be clear about how much you’re able and willing to spend on the programme. Set achievable goals you would like to accomplish, both for the programme as a whole and for specific initiatives within it.
  • Measure success. Analyse the impact of the programme or campaign, not only on the community or non-profit you serve, but on the company and employees. If you have raised funds or conducted a donation drive, it is easy to quantify your contribution, but if you have shared skills, it’s important to have a method of evaluating the change you have created. This also means establishing a baseline before you start – otherwise how will you know what you have achieved? Did your company’s reputation benefit? Perhaps you organised a community clean-up or painted a school. Did you attract positive media attention? Did your employees learn anything from their service? Employee volunteering is a business activity like any other, and outcomes must be measured. In this way you can continually improve your programme.
  • Lead by example. Leadership and management must not only get involved, they need to demonstrate enthusiasm and commitment, otherwise staff will not be motivated to get on board. Provide some education. If you want to engage employees in, for example, a reading programme at a local primary school, they will be more engaged if they understand the importance of literacy and some principles of early childhood learning.
  • Make it visible. Use office noticeboards to post photos of volunteer activities and news about the non-profit you support. Dedicate a page on the intranet to the programme and invite employees to share their feedback, photos and stories. Embed the volunteer programme into the life of the organisation, and more employees will be encouraged to participate.

Win-win

Companies have a responsibility to be good corporate citizens, and we all want to contribute to the transformation and social upliftment of our society. But there are clear business benefits to employee volunteer programmes. Sizwe Nxasana, Chairman of the FirstRand Foundation, sums it up: “Being part of ‘doing good’ not only heightens the awareness of community circumstances for employees, but also helps to attract and retain employees in companies. As employees work together to select beneficiaries and solve problems, they also improve interpersonal staff relations, break down workplace silos, gain leadership experience and, ultimately, improve their skills development.” (Source: NGO Pulse)

Welcome to this issue of the Highveld Review. Each quarter we focus on an aspect of sourcing and managing talent. The modern workforce looks very different from what it did 20 years ago, and to compete in today’s fast-moving environment it’s necessary to be flexible and agile in your resourcing strategy.

In this issue we look at outsourcing and the factors that may impact your decision to outsource – or not. We examine the risks involved and explore the  various options available, describing their associated risk profiles.

Finally, there is a matrix that provides a means of measuring options according to their strategic importance and contribution to performance, which may help you in the decision-making process. And we give you five questions to ask of your potential providers if you are considering outsourcing.

We hope you enjoy this issue of the Highveld Review. Please click here to read the full version.

In our last blog post we wrote about ways to improve your verbal communication in the workplace environment. The majority of your communication with co-workers and managers may be verbal and face-to-face, but there is a place for written communication too. Written communication allows you to document a project, meeting, set of instructions or an informal engagement that needs to be captured. A piece of written communication is a permanent record that will be valid in six months or a year and will not be subject to the vagaries of memory.

Written communication can also be forwarded or shared without any change in meaning, which can be particularly useful if a matter requires escalation. Leaving aside formal reports, minutes, contracts and promotional materials like brochures for now, let’s look at some tips to make your most common written communication – letters, memos, and predominantly emails – more effective.

Before you start…

Before you strike a single key, take a moment to consider the following questions. Doing so will ensure your communication is relevant and meaningful.

  1. Reason (why are you writing this?)
  2. Result (what do you want to achieve with this?)
  3. Reader (who is your primary audience – who are you writing to? Who is your secondary audience – will this email be forwarded to someone you don’t expect, e.g. a manager or director?)
  4. Reader’s needs (what does the reader need from this communication? Have you made it easy for them to deal with your request or need? To get the best result for yourself, write for the reader’s benefit, not your own. Talk directly to the reader and use language that will engage their interest. They get dozens of emails a day – why should they pay attention to yours?)
  5. Reader’s perception of you (how does the reader see you? How do you want to be perceived? You can influence this by coming across as organised and in control. Concise, well-structured content will facilitate this.)
  6. Response (what response or outcome do you hope to achieve? Do you need information, an answer to a question, or support? To get the right response the request or need must be clear and unambiguous.)
  7. Promise (what are you offering? Will the reader benefit in any way from your communication? If you are simply requesting information, they may not, and your appeal may interrupt their flow and simply represent another task to be done. In this case, reward them with courtesy and thanks. Otherwise, try to include a “what’s in it for me” factor – their assistance with your problem will enable you to progress an activity you are both involved in, etc.)

If you can’t answer these before you start drafting, you are not ready to write. Think about your proposition and be able to articulate these key points. The process will help you marshal your thoughts and formulate a compelling argument for your request.

Structure yourself

Whatever business communication you are writing, it needs to be structured. Outline your content before you start; don’t just jump right in, or you may get halfway through and find you’re en route to a different conclusion than the one you outlined above. Not every written document needs to be planned like an academic thesis; you probably write 100s of short emails to co-workers every week. But taking a moment to think what you are going to say rather than hammering the keyboard spontaneously will improve the quality of even those minor emails and render them more effective and efficient for you and the reader alike.

Be a journalist

If you were writing fiction, you would start by introducing characters and painting a background picture. You would build towards a climax or dénouement. However, you are not writing a novel. Think instead of the journalistic approach. The headline is the main point and the first paragraph explains it. Each subsequent paragraph reveals more detail, but it is often not essential to your grasp of the story. This is why people skim newspaper articles and often don’t read them all the way through. It is not necessary to read in depth to feel informed. Business communication should work the same way.

Start with the most important aspect of the message. The background and detail that follow are those non-essentials that may be helpful to the reader but won’t reduce the impact of your message if they are overlooked. Information should be presented in order of decreasing importance.

Formatting matters

Think of the last time you received an email with multiple, dense paragraphs. You probably felt a bit daunted at the prospect of reading it and very likely didn’t retain much of what was communicated. Make white space your friend. Have no more than one idea in a paragraph and express it in short, easy-to-read sentences. Then leave space before the next paragraph.  Short points, key features or a set of actions are best presented as bulleted lists.

If there is a task the reader must complete, make sure it is clear and obvious. Highlight it or label it. Bold text can be effective for drawing attention to an important matter, but use it sparingly or it loses its impact. Avoid all caps for the most part, although they can be used judiciously (e.g.: “FOR ACTION,” “FOR REPLY” at the beginning of the email can help to make the necessary response evident).

Finally, make sure the subject line is relevant and understandable. This will not only help the reader prioritise their inbox, it may assist them with their filing.

KISS

Keep it simple sweetheart! If you have multiple unrelated points to discuss with a co-worker, put them in separate emails with suitable headers for each. This will ensure the reader can identify and deal with each issue appropriately and your secondary issue(s) is not overlooked or forgotten. For the same reason, don’t use “reply” to bring up a new topic without changing the subject header. It can cause confusion later as the new topic will be grouped with the old thread and may be difficult to locate.

Before you go…

Lastly, don’t let a spelling mistake undo all your good efforts. A typo or misspelt word can make your communication look careless or unprofessional. Take a moment before you hit send to re-read your letter or email and check it for errors. If you are including an attachment, make sure it is attached. Attention to detail and clear, concise content will ensure your business communication is meaningful and effective every time.

Did you know the words “communication” and “community” are etymologically related? It’s unsurprising, given their similarity. Although their root meanings are slightly different, both come from “communis”, or  “common, public, general, shared by all or many”.

Why the linguistics lesson in a business blog? Because without communication, we can have no sense of community. And our offices, factories and shops are all ultimately communities. Whether we are in sales, an obvious customer-facing role, or deep in the back office talking mostly to a computer, we communicate all day, every day. This is why “good communication skills” is so often found on the list of essential qualities in job descriptions and recruitment advertisements.

Not just talking

But what do we really mean when we say “good communication skills”? We often think of the ability to write effectively, but verbal communication is just as important, if not more so. And verbal communication is not only about how you deliver messages, it’s also about how you receive them. Listening is a critical communication skill – arguably one of the most important. What are some of the characteristics of effective verbal communication? They are not that different from the hallmarks of good written communication, but you have a wider range of tools at your disposal to influence how your communication is perceived: tone of voice (gentle, firm, etc.), volume (soft and quiet, louder when necessary), speed (you can slow down your delivery for emphasis or when discussing complex concepts), facial expression (a smile goes a long way to let people know the message is non-threatening or to encourage the other speaker when you are listening) and other non-verbal cues that accompany our words.

Some tips

Hopefully you have a good rapport with your co-workers and communication flows smoothly. Because you can always improve on a good thing, here are some tips to make your interpersonal engagements even more successful.

  1. Take a deep breath

You may not literally need to inhale, but take a moment to think about what you’re going to say before you jump up from your desk and cross the office to speak to your colleague. Organise your thoughts. What do you need to convey – what is the key message? Or what information do you need from your co-worker? Small talk is important in social situations, but in the office it’s important to stay focused and ensure work conversations are efficient and productive…we all have more to do than the hours in the day allow so we need to use our time wisely. A bit of mental organisation will keep your conversations focused and constructive.

  1. Get to the point

Speak clearly and concisely. Avoid talking around a point. Difficult conversations are only painfully prolonged by a long build-up. Bad news is still bad news even if five minutes of chit-chat precedes it; and confrontation is not made easier by beating around the bush. Dense or complex ideas are also best communicated in short, straightforward sentences.

  1. Look for feedback

Pay attention to your listener. Listen to them. Are they understanding your message? Or do they look bewildered? If you are explaining a new or difficult concept, pause to allow the other person time to absorb the information, and check their grasp of it occasionally. Allow space for them to ask questions. Even in a mundane conversation, being a good listener is as important as being clear and concise and organised in your thoughts. It shows you are interested in the other person and value their input.

  1. Put yourself in their shoes

Take a moment to consider the perspective of your audience. What is the important component of your message from their point of view? If you are in IT and have just solved a technical problem, your co-worker in sales may not be interested in how you did it; they will want to know if their functionality has been restored and they can get on with what they were doing. On the other hand, the CEO might want to know what caused the problem and what steps you have taken to prevent a recurrence.

  1. Edit as you speak

What do others really need (or want) to know? “I’m sorry I’m late” is sufficient. “My daughter lost her homework, the traffic was hectic, and I couldn’t find a parking spot” is too much information. We all do it. We want to offer an explanation for a situation that may embarrass us or make us look bad, but in truth no one cares. An apology is essential…an account of your circumstances (unless you are asked) is not. Avoid over-sharing in the workplace. Save emotional unburdening for your friends and family.

  1. Non-verbal communication matters too

Your body language and facial expressions are as much a part of your communication as your words. There is an oft-quoted adage that says 55% of communication is visual (body language), 38% of communication is voice (tone, inflection, etc.), and only 7% is verbal. This has now been proved wrong, but there is still an important lesson in this. We observe the whole person when we listen to someone. If they appear disinterested in us, or their posture indicates they can’t wait to finish what they are saying and get away, our response to their verbal message will be quite different to one delivered with warmth and commitment. So make sure your body language is consistent with your meaning. You will build rapport and deepen relationships as you will come across as authentic and trustworthy.

Trust

Ultimately all our communication aims to build trust. Without trust communication breaks down and there is no community. Be confident in your interactions with your colleagues. You will command the respect of those around you and increase your value to your employer.

We hope you have found these tips helpful. We’d love to hear your pointers as well. Share your advice for communicating in the workplace below. In our next blog post we will look at effective written communication. Watch this space!