On multiple occasions in recent years similar experiences have occurred while facilitating strategic planning processes for clients. As you might image one consistent topic conjured up by participants in strategic planning sessions is “communication.’
What often occurs in these sessions is that the context of communication, as identified independently by separate groups in these sessions, is significantly different.
Therein lies the problem within many organizations struggling with “communication.” Defining it properly, and in a manner so that it can be affectively addressed.
From these sessions I’ve identified three (3) primary culprits that consistency manifest
- technical communication from the IT perspective,
- the general flow of information throughout an organization, and
- interpersonal communication.
Each provides an organization its own challenges, frustrations and costs, as well as the need for unique solutions. Each also has its own level of transparency and manifestation at the table for strategic and tactical discussion.
Technical/IT Context of Communication:
As technology continues to evolve at ever increasing rates organizations struggle to keep up. This context of communication is a constant budgetary concern and often comes with annual investment and priority discussions.
When I was running my professional baseball teams we regularly budgeted computer and phone upgrades on a three-year cycle so that every three years equipment would be brought into alignment with the latest technology, allowing us to stay current while not breaking our budget in any particular year.
In my experience discussions around the need for IT upgrades to facilitate more efficient communication take place regularly, and people within organizations have little qualms about broaching this subject, when necessary.
The Process and Flow of Communication:
In many organizations the people who need to know certain bits of information are the last to know. This causes stress and frustration while eroding trust in the work environment.
In one client’s strategic planning session there was a segment of the participants from one department who all learned of an important initiative directly from customers requesting information about it. This happens more often than most organizational leaders realize.
More thought must be given to the people in the organization most impacted by decisions, priorities and other initiatives, as well as to the people who may be impacted most immediately. Those are two different constituenciess that must be considered and communicated with at the first most appropriate times.
If a product recall is going to be announced, the people most impacted may be the receiving or service departments as they will have to set up their systems to accommodate the influx of returns. However, they may not be the ones most immediately impacted. The people most immediately impacted may be the call center representatives who need to explain the process to the customers calling in upon hearing the announcement.
I’ve had experiences where the call center people first heard about the issue when customers called in to ask about it, and they had to scramble to get up to speed.
Legendary Ohio State University football coach Woody Hayes won 5 National Collegiate Athletic Association championships during his 27 years as coach of the Buckeyes. He won those 5 titles with a unique coaching philosophy.
Hayes eschewed the forward pass. He called plays that required his quarterbacks to throw a forward pass only as a very last resort because he believed that when throwing a forward pass only three outcomes were possible, and two of them either bad or really bad.
Hayes did not want to take that 67% risk that a forward pass could fall incomplete, a bad outcome, or be intercepted by the opposition, a really bad outcome. The only positive outcome from a forward pass is that it be completed for positive yardage.
Interpersonal communication in the workplace is just like the forward pass in football. Our attempts at interpersonal communication offers us only three possible outcomes and the same 67% risk that it will be damaging.
Interpersonal communication in the workplace either erodes motivation, morale and trust in the workplace, a bad outcome. Or, it instantly destroys motivation, morale or trust in the workplace, a really bad outcome.
The good outcome from interpersonal communication in your work environment is that it will lift up the people in it, make them feel valued for their contribution and make them want to contribute at ever-higher levels.
Few organizations achieve the latter. Most are stuck in some version of the former two, communication’s bad outcome, or really bad outcome.
Whereas all three of these communication challenges regularly identified as problems in many organizations come with huge costs, the context, which most often goes overlooked, avoided or ignored, is interpersonal communication.
This is because interpersonal communication in the workplace is the most uncomfortable for individuals to address. It’s the ugly stepchild in the communication mix, it’s the one we wish would go away so we don’t have to deal with it.
But, it never does, it just gets worse and harder to deal with.
Often, it is what is not said that is the cause of our biggest workplace communication disasters, such as the toxic work environment. Its that proverbial “elephant in the room” syndrome that has everyone walking on egg shells around for fear of waking the sleeping giant, or ruffling the hornets nests that bring much pain when stirred.
Organizations continue to easily spend 10s of thousands of dollars to ensure their technological capacity to communicate is up to present day standards, they invest 10s of thousands of dollars in ineffective meetings to try to ensure the process flow of communication is up to standards (usually unsuccessfully), and invest virtually nothing in ensuring that their people at all levels are well versed in the critical interpersonal communication skills that will make the organization run more effectively and less expensively.
Yet, high-level interpersonal communication skills throughout an organization can be a competitive advantage in the marketplace. They can transform customer service while also facilitating getting products to market faster, at ever-higher quality and at lest cost.
Also, you probably haven’t consciously noticed that the organizational leaders that have these “soft skills” of interpersonal communication build the highest performing teams. It is the organizational and team leaders that know how to communicate in the workplace promptly, directly and respectfully that get recognized and promoted. But, they do so, without much fanfare because they are quietly getting things done through others without the drama of the other teams around them.
In my work helping organizations transform communication in their workplace I’ve identified seven specific communication mistakes that are causing various levels of those bad and really bad communication outcomes. I call them “The 7 Deadliest Sins of Leadership & Workplace Communication.”
Great leaders apply the antithesis, what I call “The 7 Critical Communication Skills of Champion Leaders.”
You can read all about them at www.HowToImproveLeadershipCommunication.com, a webpage dedicated to the topic where you can also download a free white paper report.
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