A review of internal staff satisfaction surveys inevitably finds that the primary moan from people in the business is that communication needs to be improved.
Why is this? We send out a newsletter, we have an intranet open to all our people and we constantly talk to them. We are bemused by the complaint.
The old saying that “perceptions are reality” was never more true than in this case. If the people perceive that communications are poor then they are poor and we need to do something about it.
The problem is that too often we think as leaders that communication consists of passing information downwards without understanding how that information is being received or is it even being received at all.
It must be stressed that communication is a two way street; until both sides of the discussion are thinking together then they build a wall between each other and simply hope that what is being said is being received and understood.
The worst that can happen is that information is passed down and then the killer question is asked; “Do you understand?” or even “Is that OK with you?” and similar.
The reaction is invariably a “yes” or a nod of the head and both sides are satisfied. Oh, yes? The team member leavers the meeting and wonders what on earth that was all about and then probably moans about it to colleagues.
Do we make sure that the communication is two way? No, we tell them. Do we involve our people? No, we tell them. Do we engage our people? No, we tell them. Do we discuss with our people? No, we tell them and we go on telling them and still wonder why they don’t understand.
When I first started in business, I worked in a large engineering company where the management abdicated responsibility for communication to the union shop convenor and the shop stewards. They spoke the same language as the shop floor and accordingly they could and did adjust the information which came from management to suit themselves. It was a totally useless exercise in communication.
In the past few years, communication on a personal level has changed dramatically. Individuals can communicate with each other on Facebook or in 140 characters Twitter and more and more use them as their primary means of communication. Even email as a consequence is now considered old hat with younger people and we need to catch up with that fact.
Remember however that email and Twitter are unforgiving and should you make an inadvertent comment which is wrongly interpreted, it can lead to a breakdown in both communication and relationships. Moral; use with great care!
What we think of as standard methods of communication, like newsletters, are not only out of date; they are simply not being used and, crucially, not even being read.
We need to have a radical rethink of the ways in which we communicate with our people so that they can be involved, engaged and trusting of the leadership.
Nothing can beat the face-to-face interaction between people with honest feedback and open discussion. That way, the communication gap can be closed.
It is not a matter of communicating TO them; we need to communicate WITH them and in their frame of reference.