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Sunday, 14 December 2014

What Do You Mean, We Don’t Communicate? We Send Everyone a Newsletter But They Don’t Read It!

In just about every employee survey that I have seen there is always a substantial proportion of respondents claiming that communication needs to improve.

Very frustrating for those leaders who understand the need for good communications and have put systems in place to make sure that the people know what is going on.

The problem is that the definition of communications can vary wildly from one to another and frequently according to their level in the hierarchy.

Communication is a two way process; telling people is not communication and hearing without listening is also fruitless.

It is useful to ask yourself as a leader:

·  In what way do the people think that communication could be improved?
·  What is my definition if communications in this business?
·  In what direction does communication flow?
·  What methods do we use?
·  How effective are they?
·  Do we prefer verbal over written?
·  Do you know what the people would prefer?
·  How good a listener are you?

There is a strong case for setting up some form of system to investigate with representation from all levels in the business.

The fact is that most communication in a business is intermittent, frequently only "top-down", is selective in terms of the information and of the people receiving it and is generally more opaque than transparent.

All of this leads to frustration and the enthusiastic generation of rumours, which is always counter-productive.

Another serious issue involves top down communication being filtered through layers of management until it has been totally rewritten.

Perhaps the worst case of downward filtering that I have encountered is the large manufacturing business that used the trade union structure to pass information through to the workforce. The result was predictable with a negative slant being put on to virtually every issue.

Admittedly this occurred many years ago but the massage is still clear and appropriate.

In their great book, The Puritan Gift, Ken and Will Hopper make the point very forcibly that until there is as much upwards communication as downwards there will always be a communication gap.

The key therefore is to engender and encourage upwards communication in order to close the gap. Here we are coming into the "unknown unknown" paradox because in many cases the shop floor knows more about what is going on than does the management.

Again this leads inevitably to unclear and often pointless messages transmitted in both directions.

What, therefore, is the answer?

It certainly shouldn't include a flurry of messages, a multiplicity of media and a constant downwards insistence that "we committee but they don't listen".

At the heart of the issue is mutual trust and sometimes the lack of it. The culture that is developed and driven into the business by the leader must emphasise honesty and transparency at all time and in all communication.

In addition the vexed question if the whistle blower must be clarified and accepted by the management.

If some sees a wrong being committed and discloses the fact to the management then they should be congratulated rather than have sanctions imposed.

Equally there is little point in assembling everyone to give them information about company performance and then couching it in detail that only an accountant could understand.  

Messages need to be relevant to the listener and if they are not, expect your people to say they understand and then to find them in little groups saying "What was all that about?" 

Accordingly we need to accept and encourage communication in both directions in a culture of no-blame, to praise honesty, clarity and transparency, and to demonstrate all of these factors by taking visible action.

Above all, when passing a message (in either direction) employ the old method of "Tell them what you going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you have just told them".  

A little judicious repetition of the message never did any harm.

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