The other day I received a sales letter from a new local business. It began like this:
Dear Neighbor, your going to love our opening day specials.
That letter went directly into the recycling bin, the rest of it unread. True, I may have missed some great opening day specials, but so be it. They lost me at “your.”
When it comes to doing business, trust is everything. A business letter that starts out with a grammatical error (such as using the possessive “your” instead of “you are” or its contraction “you’re”) does not inspire confidence.
Poorly written communication affects a company’s bottom line in a quantifiable way — to the tune of $3.1 billion dollars annually. Most of that jaw-dropping sum is related to handling follow-up inquiries from confused recipients.
Poor business communication also affects a company’s internal productivity. This makes sense when you realize that over half of Canadian workers spend up to four hours a day reading business communications. I’m thinking about things like emails, reports, and memos. If those communications are poorly written there are negative consequences.
I came across a study that showed a majority of workers felt that poorly written communication directly correlated to a loss in productivity. In other words – it wasted their time. They accomplished less in their workday.
It’s ironic, isn’t it, that the biggest consequence of a poorly written communication is a failure to communicate.
So what can be done? The obvious answer is to improve the quality of an organization’s written communication. It’s particularly crucial in today’s workplace, where people are increasingly asked to write more, from emails to tweets to traditional reports and memos, as part of their jobs.
If you’re (not your!) a manager or an employer, by this point you may be thinking about how you can improve the writing within your own organization. I’d recommend applying a systematic approach to analyzing the situation and implementing a plan – as you would with any other obstacle to growing your business. The broad strokes might look something like this:
- Take a good look at the strengths and weaknesses of the written communication in your workplace. Assess where there are problems with grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc.
- Consult your employees. Where do they see a need? Where do they see their strengths?
- Strategize about training. Do you want to use in-house expertise, hire trainers, or use online courses? While at The Language Lab we place great value on online learning, (it’s cost effective and can be done at any time), you may be perfectly able to deal with the situation by drawing on your own workforce. Although speaking from experience, I should note that creating a language-training program is a great deal of work. You may find it more efficient to hire trainers or explore the online learning approach.
- As with any training program, build in the assessment tools for measuring the effectiveness of the training, with follow up skills testing and soliciting feedback from your staff.
- Be prepared to run regular refresher courses – and possibly implement new courses that further develop the capacity of your employees to communicate successfully.
The good news is that business writing is not an art; it is a skill that can be taught. It’s a skill well worth learning too, because good business communication can make all the difference in the world. (Or at least to a company’s bottom line!)