The best run businesses have leaders who understand the languages used within the organization.

I was working in a business that was having efficiency challenges, I requested the managers of the various departments meet to discuss potential solutions. We had people from finance, production, sales, customer service, human resources, and the service department in a room and The Boss began the meeting by defining our goals and asking for their full participation. I come into a business without emotional connections and without a silver bullet or magic wand. The solutions are most often found within the business, offered up by the organization’s employees.

It did not take long before The Boss and I noticed many of the managers did not understand their peers. I studied the situation briefly and realized that each department was speaking a different language. The finance manager using “accounting speak”, production was using words that the human resource manager did not understand. The customer service manager and the sales manager thought they knew what each other were trying to explain, but after the exchange of several questions, they soon realized they were not on the same page. The service manager was not talking at all, when asked why not, he said he didn’t understand what was being said so he just didn’t say anything. He shut down and decided not to contribute to the conversation. All the people in the room were stakeholders in the organization and each were chosen because they are the” subject matter experts” in their departments. The Boss and I realized that we needed everyone to participate in order to solve our problems.

I called a “time out” and we discussed the communication challenge we were experiencing. The conclusion was this organization had a “literacy” problem. The managers knew the specific language of their departments, but they did not know enough of the languages used by the managers outside their field of expertise. Now, I don’t claim every manager needs to be an expert in all languages of the organizations, but I do believe each manager has to be “good enough” at understanding most of the terms and meanings spoken in other departments in the organization. Think of it as knowing a “command language” for each department, this improved communications in the business would help to improve the efficiencies of the organization.

After talking with The Boss, our solution was to develop a workshop and offer literacy training, so each department manager and their key employees understood enough of the common languages, terms, and definitions used in the organization to be effective leaders. Now the rank-n-file employee may not need to understand the language of the financials for example, but the managers of all departments would need to be literate in the common terms found on the financial statements, especially the profit and loss statement.

For example, if you have financial literacy you can participate in and contribute to the financial conversations. If you do not have financial literacy the people in the conversation will tend to “dumb down” the conversation or exclude you all together. You may be able to lead people but how can you reach your full potential if you do not understand the financial statement you are responsible for as a leader. Communication begins with understanding the language, understanding the language is critical to identifying the problem, developing a plan, implementing solution, and eventually analyzing the results. As The Boss, you are responsible for the literacy of your organization. Help your leaders reach their full potential by improving the literacy in your organization, ultimately improving your profitability.