Ultimately, poor reading comprehension hampers or limits your business' profitability.
This happens because workers who can't read well make more mistakes and waste more time than those who really understand what they read.
Before proceeding with this topic, I must admit that I have misread or misunderstood my share of printed materials and instructions. Sometimes I'm rushed; other times I'm distracted or simply not paying enough attention. But when I misread something, I blame myself first and then try to be more attentive next time.
What's more, I'm self-conscious about sounding like the proverbial angry old man. But everywhere I turn, I see more examples of people who don't understand what they're reading. Mind you, this wasn't something I suddenly noticed one morning. To the contrary, it's been a growing trend I've watched over the last 30 years or so.
Furthermore, if today's instant communication format such as the Internet and texting improves reading comprehension, I fail to see how or why.
For instance, I frequently encounter service personnel at all levels of the automotive repair industry who read the very same service literature I just read. (I just handed them the item and asked them to read it while I work on another task.)
This is very straightforward, expository writing, basically “how-to” material. Regardless of how cut-and-dry the text was, the service writer or technician often misunderstands it.
Then I read the material a second time and try to figure out how somebody could draw a different meaning from it.
Finally, I have to admit that this person doesn't comprehend what he's reading, period!
It's especially aggravating when someone skips steps. For example, a shop manual or bulletin clearly and strongly emphasizes the importance of following a numbered sequence of operations. Or, I stress the importance of a sequence in a letter or e-mail.
However, the reader or recipient blithely skips steps, taking the “cafeteria” approach: He or she picks and chooses steps to follow. Thanks to the skipped steps, the tech botches the repair procedure and has to start over.
Isn't it amazing how I can give the same printed material to a capable reader and the very same repair procedure goes smoothly? How else do you explain the discrepancy?
Now, Tire Business readers are welcome to calculate the impact of doing the job over again on their business' profitability. In many instances, management really isn't aware of how much time is lost to poor reading comprehension.
There have been countless times out in the shop when I've argued with supposedly literate technicians who don't seem to grasp the difference between the words “in” and “on,” can't understand the difference between the words do and don't.
Yes, sometimes technical literature isn't written in the clearest style. Other times the worker may misread the text because he or she was stressed out or distracted.
But here I'm describing ongoing cases of flagrant, indisputable reading miscomprehension. This means that no matter how you slice or dice it, the person didn't understand written material well enough to carry out a task correctly. That's a recipe for very costly mistakes—not only botched repairs but blunders that affect the safety of a customer's vehicle.
If you think that poor reading comprehension isn't an issue, track something for me. Monitor your e-mails closely and see how many employees or co-workers read the messages correctly and react accordingly.
I'm getting to the point where I'm afraid to ask some people more than one simple question per e-mail. Every time I do, they only respond to the first question in the e-mail and totally ignore the others.
Remember, communications of all kinds—including today's instant communications—only have value when the recipient understands them. When recipients show ongoing difficulties understanding printed messages, it suggests inadequate reading skills.
And the more you try to build a business while skirting this issue, the more you may realize that you can't avoid the problem.
At some point, you may need to steer an employee or two toward the nearest adult remedial reading class.