Clear communication equals cash
If you communicate clearly and accurately, you create sales opportunities, increase your hit rate and productivity, and lower your costs.
By Pete Geissler, Pittsburgh
“I wish all of my employees—especially engineers—could communicate better.”
I’ve heard these wistful words far too often during my 40-year career as a professional communicator and teacher. The reason: employees, managers, and owners of engineering and other firms know intuitively that murky, wordy, imprecise communications cost contracts, promotions, and big bucks. One owner told me that he fears bad communications could cost him his entire business.
So, being a curious sort, a few years ago I decided to convert intuition to hard numbers and surveyed 20-some employees and owners of consulting and manufacturing firms. I arrived at these startling and consistent conclusions:
- Unclear, imprecise, off-point communications (hereafter called “bad”) cost the firms 1% to 10% of revenue. A vice president of a large engineering/construction company said: “The cost of bad communications can cost us as much as 1% to 2% of revenue, a very significant sum in this business where the highest profits we can expect are 4% to 5%.”
- Bad communications have cost several respondents their jobs or have prevented their promotions. On the other hand, several respondents cited good communications as the reason for landing contracts, raises, research grants, and scholarships. Again, such generalities were supported by anecdotes.
PQPP: Start with your communications
Consultants have only two products: proposals and reports. Both can include drawings and words, of course, and both are sales documents. Perhaps most importantly, proposals and reports are your most public reflections of your intelligence, that is, your understanding of clients’ needs. If your understanding is communicated clearly and accurately, you create sales opportunities, increase your hit rate and productivity, and lower your costs. The reverse is equally valid.
Axiom 1: All else being equal, well-reasoned and clearly communicated proposals and reports beat out the badly reasoned and muddily communicated.
Getting to your final products requires all sorts of internal communications, and they also are reflections of your intelligence. If they fit our definition of “bad,” productivity and promotability plummet, and costs soar, simply because they initiate tag games needed for clarification.
Axiom 2: Good internal communications raise productivity, quality, profitability, and promotability (PQPP) in familiar, dramatic ways. Good communicators create their presentations and documents quickly because they have internalized the fundamentals and put them to use as a matter of course, while bad communicators tend to struggle with grammar, syntax, structure, and other basics.
Axiom 3: Articulate engineers complete quality drawings and specs more quickly.
The choice is yours
Here are three suggestions for realizing your PQPP:
First, realize that engineers aren’t beyond redemption; they can learn to be better communicators if they are willing to internalize a few fundamentals. The proof is in my experience teaching at consulting and other companies.
Second, to create lasting improvements, retain a writer or editor who understands your business to work with those employees who are responsible for proposals and reports.
Third, offer a series of short seminars that focus on applying fundamentals to their letters, memos, proposals, and reports, thereby bringing theory to the practicalities of their tasks.
- Geissler offers decades of experience as a writer of engineering knowledge and a teacher of writing for engineers and managers. Among his clients are Civil and Environmental Consultants, Sci-Tek Consultants, KLH Engineers, and The Engineering Society of Western Pennsylvania. He has taught advanced writing at Carnegie Mellon University and Duquesne University, and has authored four books. For more info, visit www.peteswords.com.
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