Loud and Clear: Communication in Your Business

Embrace quick, clear terminology in your business to increase the speed and clarity of communications

Recent events have reminded us that communication is vital to an enterprise. Whether in a military context or flying an airplane near a 5G tower, it’s more important than ever that information shared is:

  1. Heard
  2. Understood

It’s no different in your shop.

Five by five

Take, for example, the rules of etiquette for AM radio transmission. If you’ve ever heard the term “five by five,” that is a measurement of communication quality. The first number is for signal strength, and the second number is for clarity. It’s typically on a scale of one to five, with one being the lowest and five being the highest — but there are also scales that go up to nine depending on your region. The numbers make it simple. The reason for simplicity is that sometimes info needs to be communicated quickly and clearly, without a lot of back and forth, such as on a battlefield, for example. Five by five is radio parlance for “loud and clear.”

Embrace a code

Acronyms are a favorite of highly functioning communications teams. Acronyms help cut down on time and keep communication moving back and forth. It can also be an easy way to communicate in front of a customer if discretion is needed. Sometimes a rush order or an angry customer in the lobby may require that you discuss sensitive details with a teammate in front of others. It can help to speak in code to keep things professional.

Competing with equipment

Got any industrial equipment in your shop? With motors, print heads, router bits, or anything else with a power source that is busy creating the end product you want to sell to your customer, there’s going to be a lot of noise. It can help to raise the volume to be heard over the machinery while still providing clarity and exchanging details.

You’ve experienced it even if you don’t know it

Next time you’re in a grocery store or a big box retailer, you may hear callouts like “Code 5 to Aisle 23.” Code 5 has a very specific definition. It could be regarding something as simple as a spill or as complicated and critical as an active shooter. The purpose of code is to communicate a lot of information very quickly and with high clarity, so everyone understands.

I was in a Lowe’s Home Improvement warehouse a few months ago, having a conversation with an associate about a tough project. The team member was very patient with me as I explained my problem and managed to ignore the sounds of the forklifts in the receiving department and the crying kids in the garden department; but when something came over the loudspeaker, his head perked up and he strained his ear to listen. “Code Adam” got his full attention. He very politely held his hands up to tell me it was time to stop talking and said in a measured tone: “I’ll be right back — please wait here.” He then took off down the aisle towards the front of the store.

As you can imagine, this was a little disconcerting, but I figured it had to be an emergency of some sort. My first thought was injury since places like these have heavy machinery roaming the aisles and lots of sharp, dangerous things in high places waiting to fall on you. It turns out “Code Adam” means there’s a lost child in the store. “Adam” is for a little boy — and there is also a separate code for a lost little girl. As a father of two, my heart sank. Nobody ever wants to encounter this situation. The good news is that the child was found before the associate got back to me.

“Code Adam” has a very simple definition, but it also comes with a set of basic instructions. Every associate in the store needs to stop what they are doing and immediately go to any of the store exits to wait for the “all clear.” This is to prevent one of two things: the child wandering into the parking lot or someplace more dangerous, or worse, somebody else wanders off with the child. It was a false alarm that day, but I can imagine situations like that happen a lot in such big stores as these gigantic warehouses.

Think about a scenario where the store is packed on a Sunday, and the loudspeaker blares out, “Attention all associates, there is a missing child in the store. Please stop what you are doing and proceed to the nearest exit to prevent them from being kidnapped.” I agree — Code Adam seems easier and much more appropriate to avoid a panic.

It’s also good business

Having a special code system builds team unity and raises morale. It can give a team a sense of belonging and purpose to have a shared communication system. It also leaves open opportunities for your associates to improve operations if they find new ways of doing things that may require new codes. It also can help with training if team members are always reminding each other of the codes.

Anybody who lives near an In-N-Out Burger knows there is a secret menu that is not advertised. The idea is that someone in line will overhear the special order, ask about it, and now they are in the secret club. Learning the in-house lingo builds customer loyalty when your customers feel they are “on the inside.”

Embracing quick, clear terminology in your business to increase the speed and clarity of communications will remove roadblocks to you providing the kind of service to your customers that will help you stand out in a crowded marketplace. They’ll hear you loud and clear.

Dana Curtis

Dana Curtis


Dana Curtis is the founder and CEO of Biztools, a strategic consulting firm that helps small businesses multiply revenue through improved customer experience and pivot to new markets.

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