Last week, when I talked about the importance of a common language within a business, I didn't fully discuss how to establish your language to begin with. This week, I'd like to look at the elements of a common language, and establish what I believe are the best methods to establish that language.
Before I get to any of that, however, I want to clarify something I said last week. Language isn't regulated specifically to words or phrases. It contains them, certainly, but language also includes any gesture, symbol, or pictures. Furthermore, it expands to things like graphs, charts, gauges and anything you use to show information graphically. Because of this, some of the things I will probably say will apply to certain areas of language, and other things I say won't apply to those areas but will apply to different ones. Just something to keep in mind.
As far as the elements themselves are concerned, I think this should be pretty straight forward. A common language needs to be several things in order to function properly. That is, in order for a common language to make communication easier for those within a given organization, it needs to meet the following requirements. First, the language must be simple. And not just simple in the same way that "once you use it for a few weeks, you'll understand." It needs to be so simple, that within 5 minutes of explaining it, anyone could understand its meaning. Why that simple? Because the problems that arise in your business will arise whether or not someone understands how to communicate those problems. The computer doesn't care that it's only a workers 2nd day and therefor should explain the alert more. If it's not understandable immediately, what's the point to begin with?
Second, it should be easy. Now I know I already said that the language should be simple, but simplicity and "easy" are sometimes quite different. This is one of those times. Suppose you are using a color coding system to display the status of a truck in the warehouse, or the status of your medical supplies in a particular hospital wing. That's pretty simple. But if you're using a specific color for your 37 different supplies, or the status of your truck, then you have a pretty steep learning curve for everyone. Keeping the system easy and simple will give you quickly actionable information. Perhaps you just have one display for your supply status. When it turns read, you delve further into the system to see what needs to be ordered. Even easier, that system could be set up so that it will only light up at specific times during the day, matching the times that the warehouse sends out new supplies.
Third, the language should be adaptable and consistent. The meaning behind basic color codes, shapes, or words should transcend individual tools, graphs, or alerts. Imagine if green meant "go" on some streets but "stop" on others. Along with being able to use the same language across your organization now, its adaptability means that it is also expandable. Your system should allow you to add the same functionality to any new hardware, software, or system you may add in the future.
Now this is all well and good, but getting an entire operation "on the same page" could prove time-consuming, or difficult, depending on how many people are within your organization. The good news is; if you've done the things I've said above, you''re already two thirds of the way there. What's left is the creation of this language, and teaching it.
I could probably do a whole extra entry on the creation of a common language for an organization, so I'll try and keep this part relatively brief. Creating the language is something that should not be done with haste. You must take your time creating it. It could end up being overly expense and time consuming to do it again, and you'll have to if it's not efficient enough. The first step requires you to hear from all the people that will use this language. Find out what needs to be communicated, find out what needs to be tracked, what do you need to say? From here, you can establish a base line for the common things in between people, departments, or other organizational areas. Again, remember when creating this language that you'll need to make it easy and simple to understand. You're going to take all the things I listed above into practice, and create your language.
Finally, teaching the language at this point should be the easiest part. If you've done all the other steps properly. If it's easy and simple to understand, and you used the input given to you by your different departments, then it will come very quickly how the language works. It's vitally important to not stop here. You must continue to examine and and watch the progress of your system, and determine what needs fixing or tweaking to make it run as best as it can.
Well, that's about all I can say on the subject. I hope you all found it interesting to read, at the very least. If you have any questions, or anything you'd like me to explain further, please feel free to e-mail me.
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