Every day, people are bombarded with enough information to overload a laptop within a week. It’s no surprise; therefore, that communication frequently tops the list of desired improvements for employees everywhere.
Getting it right will lead to alignment, collaboration, innovation and employee engagement, leading to an overall improvement in the bottom line. Getting it wrong leads to mistrust, uncertainty, wasted time and resources, fragmented teams, conflict, stress and disengagement. If you ask any employee how they’d rate their organisation’s internal communication on a scale of one to 10 (with 10 being ‘it’s brilliant’), you’d be lucky to raise a five in most organisations. Yet, communication is a business imperative that can, with a bit of effort and determination, easily be improved.
In the same way that your culture and values are the glue that sticks everything together, clear communication must run as a thread through everything you do. The issue is that people think if they’ve ‘put it out there’; it’s landed – job done. However, with such crazy volumes of information coming from all angles, it’s understandable that people will ‘auto-delete’ anything that’s a) not interesting b) not relevant at the time c) they don’t like / agree with.
For instance, suppose you want to communicate a change in the structure of your IT team. You email it out. You put a revised org chart on your internal comms platform. You ask line managers to mention it in their next team briefings. Then three months later when the impact of the changes kicks in, people say they weren’t informed. They’re so busy concentrating on their own stuff that what’s happening somewhere else right at that time just gets ‘deleted’. It’s therefore not enough to communicate things once – it needs an on-going drip-feed approach; just good management really.
Good communication cannot be achieved simply by ‘telling’. It takes work to relay the message then allow people an opportunity to discuss (clarify) and maybe even challenge this with you. This is why consultation will get the message across far more effectively. As the ancient Chinese proverb goes ”Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn”.
Everyone must take responsibility for communication, know how to do it and play their part. It’s up to every leader at every level to facilitate this – starting from the top. Transparency is key to building trust – be clear about where you stand, though also be prepared to listen. As a minimum:
- Ensure people know where to find information centrally as and when they need it, for example via an intranet, comms platform or shared folder in the cloud.
- Use a variety of approaches to communicate an important message, repeating as necessary
- Check your people have understood by asking them (digital pulse surveys are great here for quick, ad hoc data capture)
You may well need a dedicated resource to keep everything up to date, though it’s worth it. Think about how much time, effort and investment you put into external communications…
At the end of the day, it’s about putting thought and effort into getting the information you do put out there right, so that people will want to take it in because it’s what they want and need to know. The endless copying into emails has to stop now – proceed on a strictly ‘need to know basis’ and then make sure information is available in the right place(s).
Create an environment in which communication channels are open and two-way; it’s vital you are able to access the stuff from the grassroots. The people who are ‘doing the doing’ often have the best ideas – ideas that can boost sales and profit or save you cost. Why wouldn’t you want to access this valuable ‘free’ resource?
A real life example: a part-time barman had a simple idea to clean beer pipes differently that he’d held back on, not wanting to overstep the mark. Then a new digital platform was launched whereby one of the features was to submit ideas. When rolled out across the company, his idea subsequently saved his employer £500K per year. He’d assumed someone must have tried it already. No one was ever asked for his opinion before. Opening up two-way communications enabled him to make his simple yet brilliant suggestion safely, without fear of recrimination or rejection.
In all communication, less really is more. Make it a ‘non-negotiable’ that people share only the essential stuff and only with those who need to know it and in the right way:
The Ten Cs of Communication:
- Clear: straight, simple contemporary – bullet points are a great tool – see case study here
- Concise: think ahead to use as few words as possible to maximise impact
- Consistent: make the right information available, repeating key messages
- Content: relevant, interesting, connects with the recipient(s)
- Compelling: put yourself ‘in their shoes’ to captivate and persuade
- Curious: be interested – two ears, one mouth – use accordingly
- Compassionate: empathetic to others’ needs and perspectives
- Creative: interesting, memorable, entertaining, impactful
- Confidence: know your stuff and prep for open, honest, ongoing feedback
- Connections: find people who understand and support you to get the message out there
BONUS TIP: Check it: write it, edit it, run it by a colleague, practise it
The ability to communicate well is today’s leadership essential. Whilst this will always be a work in progress, the good news is that as soon as people of influence start communicating effectively, others will follow.
And just imagine a world without all that endless, unnecessary communication where people could just get on with doing their jobs and make a positive impact instead…
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