Nothing stifles an organisation’s possibilities more than poor communication. Actually that’s not strictly true. Three things do – telling lies, partial truths or nothing at all.
In this post, I’d like to highlight some of the common pitfalls around communication or lack of it.
Common Communication Pitfalls – The Seven Deadly Sins
1. Not Communicating The ‘Why?’
As Simon Sinek says in his fantastic leadership book , ‘Start with why‘:
‘People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it’.
In your organisation, do your people know the ‘why?’ Do they know why they didn’t get a pay rise this year? Do they know why headcount needs to be reduced? Do they know why you’ve just restructured the organisation? Do they know why their job is important to the organisation? Do they know why your organisation exists at all? Do they know why customers buy from your organisation?
As Simon also says in his book, and I paraphrase – ‘Every single one of us knows what we do. Most of us know how to do our jobs, but how many of us know the ‘Why?”
When communicating any message, good or not so good, it’s hugely important to impart the ‘why?’. In my experience, people who are motivated, passionate, and really good at what they do, tend to understand the ‘Why?’. In fact I’d go further and say that I believe the ‘Why’ drives the passion and motivation. It might be a personal ‘Why’, but it will be there.
In today’s economic climate, most people understand that difficult decisions need to be made, but you need to tell them AND the authentic reason for them to buy-in to the message.
2. Communicating Too Slowly or Not At All
People assume the worst when they hear nothing. Good and passionate employees want to know what’s going on in their organisation, and beyond their department boundaries. They want some visibility into the organisation’s plans and where they fit within them. Senior managers who can’t or won’t discuss their organisation’s goals, strategies, vision and performance are all but guaranteed to spend a great deal of time recruiting. Marketable top performers want to be engaged and involved and won’t stand for being left in the dark without the information they need to do their jobs well.
Just as damaging can be when senior managers hold out for so long on making an announcement that employees start walking the corridors for information. Very often, they are forced to draw their own conclusions (and often the wrong ones!) about the reasons for what’s going to happen or has happened. Perceptions about the company withholding information are often more damaging than providing the “negative” news in the first place.
3. Not Being Honest
The very worst you can do in communicating a message is to lie and only marginally better, to not tell the whole truth. You WILL be found out, and your personal credibility and /or that of your organisation will be damaged, possibly irreparably.
I will make a bold statement. Your people can handle it. You don’t need to couch your message in fluff or half-truths. If your organisation is publicly owned or the message or timing is sensitive, be as honest as you can be without breaking confidence or legislation AND when you are able to say something more, make sure that you do at the first opportunity.
4. One Size Fits All Communication
People process information differently. For some of us, we like to be walked through in a great level of detail in order to fully understand a change or a message. For others a quick email will suffice. For others they may need to hear the message a number of times before the impact of a change on them is understood. Organisations that send out a single global email imparting important news are failing to get their message across and failing their people. A mix of communication channels need to be thought about carefully when delivering important news or change. Face to face communication is always best, but with the geographic spread of many organisations and service organisations with call centres and shift patterns, this may not always be practical.
5. Assuming Your People Wouldn’t Understand
Organisations don’t employ stupid people. If they do, that’s a whole different blog topic and a short-lived organisation! People have mortgages, children, debt, cars, bills to pay, personal challenges to deal with, bereavement, stress, relationship challenges…I could go on. They can deal with difficult messages. They may need support, but they can handle it! They are also very aware of when a message is being dumbed down or the full story is not being told. If you have a complex message to deliver, make sure that you consider how the message is going to land, what reinforcement might be needed, whether you need to engage with external agencies to help you and what you want and need the outcome to be.
6. Not Checking That The Communication Has Been Understood
I am astounded at the number of businesses that do not measure whether messages or change initiatives are understood, never mind effective. In some cases huge sums of money are spent on internal ‘campaigns’ that are completely ineffective at best or actually have a negative impact on the people that they are trying to motivate. It’s hugely important that all communications campaigns – either external or internal are measured. Even anecdotal feedback from across key influencers within your organisation will give you an indicator of how a message has landed and whether further work is required.
7. No Reinforcement Of Communication By Managers and Supervisors
The ‘Marzipan’ layer as I call it, is rife in many businesses and public sector organisations. Information often stops at the senior management layer and gets no further, at least not consistently if it does. It’s not news that managers are key to effectively delivering messages and engaging employees. When leaders and managers convey confidence to employees, they build trust, which can help stoke employee engagement. In many ways, managers and more importantly team leaders and supervisors are the face of the organisation for employees, vital for translating mission, values and strategy into behaviour and action.
The best companies recognise this connection and go beyond simply providing managers with information to pass along to employees. They prepare managers to move away from cascading corporate messages and toward sharing the meaning of these messages with their team – back to the ‘Why?’. This requires engaging with managers, listening to their reactions, supporting their personal change journeys and crafting content that can be delivered in a manager’s own voice.
By avoiding these 7 deadly sins you’ll have a much better chance of engaging your employees in change.
As always would love to get your feedback and thoughts so please give us your thoughts. Until next time…