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What Lake Effect Snow Teaches About Communication


Photo courtesy of Joseph DeBenedictis and Jason Holler

Without proper communication, things can go downhill fast. In 2000, we experienced an unpredicted and unprecedented Lake Effect storm, stranding thousands of workers, students and motorists the week before Thanksgiving. In 2010, a similar event occurred, with the band focusing on the interstate. Buffalo won’t soon forget Snowpocalypse 2014. 

Similarly, sharp changes in workload, shifts in culture, and unanticipated turnover can impact any business. Just as those outside the Lake Effect wonder what all the fuss is about, sometimes business owners and executives are insulated from or unaware of significant issues. How and why does this happen?
  • Any significant change, for example, gaining a new large customer or implementing a new system, can spread teams thin. Without clearly defined and communicated roles, significant upticks (and downturns) in work can cause trouble.
  • Hiring the wrong manager can put up a wall between teams on the front lines and executives/owners. The wrong manager will sap productivity, disempower employees, or even worse, damage cultures or drive away customers.  Often times they’ll do this while reporting upward everything is fine!
  • Delays in addressing recognized problems by senior management can cause employees to lose faith in management's ability, often damaging lines of communication.

There are certainly many ways other than those outlined above that can drive communication breakdowns, decreasing the ability of a business to drive good information to leadership teams to drive decisions. What can be done? Just like preemptive travel bans, school cancellations, and equipment readiness decreases the risks of disaster, so too can these actions:

  • Stay Connected – Find ways to engage employees.
  • EmpowerPromote and empower leaders that build strong relationships both above and below.  This keeps leadership teams better informed and increases a culture of connectivity.
  • Take Action – Once problems are recognized, try to avoid unnecessary delays to solving them.  Doing so will establish and validate employee trust, and foster faith in leadership.

If blindsided by an unpredictable band of lake effect snow, sometimes the only thing to do is heed former Mayor of Buffalo Jimmy Griffin’s advice and crack a six pack. Undoubtedly too, things will happen at work making happy hours even more appealing.  But control what you can by staying connected, empowering, and acting decisively, and you’ll be surprised by the results.

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