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Monday, 25 May 2015

Do You Communicate Bureaucratically? Far Better To Do It Informally!

At the Vistage Open Day in Manchester last Thursday we had the pleasure of hearing Vistage speaker, Mark Robb on the topic of Service Excellence.

Among the gems he disclosed, he analysed the way that companies communicate assessing their communication methods under the headings of conscious/unconscious and formal/informal.

If we consider the Conscious/Formal type of communication this would include items like Policy statements, procedures, processes in some detail, and general information transmitted through formal channels then we can see that many companies especially the larger organisations use these methods to inform the people.

The management fondly imagine that the people have been advised and that is therefore that.

Sadly however, research has shown that in general only 3-5% of the people take the slightest notice of the information provided for then.

On the other hand there is the unconscious/informal way to communicate which could be a metaphorical chat by the water cooler, a personal email, or a discussion over lunch.

And guess what?  The same research shows that this form of communication is around 85% effective.

The problem now arises that there is a serious misunderstanding in general about how to communicate most effectively.

The problem then is to try to find a method that will pass on these important messages with the optimum take up.

I well recall a great Visage speaker from the US, Herb Meyer, telling us that when he was working in the CIA (honestly!) the joke was that if any information was passed in a file marked “Absolutely Top Secret, for your eyes only, and sent under lock and key etc. then the contents would be known throughout the building in about ten minutes.

On the other hand if the file were posted on a notice board then the contents remained a secret.

The question then arises, how do we make sure that we communicate in a way that is compelling, interesting and meaningful to those to whom we want to pass on information?

For fairly obvious reasons some information must be formal but as far as possible the technique needs to be as personalised as possible.

General information transmitted though formal channels doesn’t really work so what is the best way to make sure that it has been absorbed and possibly implemented?

The problem is that as a business grows so does the bureaucracy associated with it.

It is possibly a truism to say that people like to be treated like people and not like automata so leaders need to evolve ways of communicating even formal information in a more informal and personalised manner.

Whatever is decided, there is little value in transmitting information downwards through others and hoping that it will arrive unscathed and be understood.

In a very large engineering company, the first in my career, all formal information was transmitted from management to the troops via the union shop convener and shop stewards and then management wondered why nobody seemed to understand what was being said to them.

One final thought.  There is no point at all in having a meeting to communicate something important and then asking, “Do you understand?” or possibly “Any questions?”

That is the perfect way to ensure that everyone involved will go out of the meeting saying: “What was that all about?”

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