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Telling It Like It Is

Optimize Blog - July 29, 2013 - 1 comment

In all but one organizational health diagnostic that we have completed, the subject of communication ranks as the number one issue or should we say ‘opportunity’. In the one diagnostic that it didn’t reach number one it came in a close second to ‘leadership capability’…….the smart ones among you out there have already picked up on the correlation….
Invariably communication within the group always scores highly whereas it is the corporate or cross functional communication that is identified as the failure.
After many years in business here at Zeitgeist we have come to accept the fact that communication is never going to be perfect within an organization – much of it is to do with the human condition. We often think that there are things being left unsaid or that something is going on that we should know about but don’t, regardless of the reality.
So should we give up on communication? After all if it’s never going to be totally fixed shouldn’t we just make the statement that “it is what it is…..” By the way, we really don’t like that statement. Whilst accepting that there are some things that we cannot change, too often the phrase is used as a signal of surrender……
Our view is that you cannot give up on communication. It is a critical leadership accountability – communicating down, up and across. Whilst perhaps not being able to be perfect, we can all be better when it comes to communication. Good tools, plenty of practice and regular self-assessment can all help us get better at this fundamental skill.
One of the biggest failures in communication is to not answer the WIIFM question. That’s not some kind of new games console, it stands for ‘What’s in it for me’. Communication needs to connect and be real at the individual level. It matters not how much money or time you spend on your fancy slide deck or big breakfast town halls; it will not resonate if you cannot answer the question of what it means to every individual that needs to hear the message.
Communicating the corporate strategy for example at the 60,000 feet level will be meaningless unless what it means for each individual can be brought to life. For the CEO to talk individually to each employee is rarely practical and therefore the cascade process through each successive leadership layer needs to be robust and effective. There needs to be clear line of sight between what the individual does on a day to day basis and the strategic deliverables of the organization.
We were speaking recently to a retiring CEO and when asked if he had any regrets over what he had achieved he was candid with his response. His biggest regret was having his messages diluted as they cascaded down and filtered as they came back up from the ‘shop floor’. This lack of connection between what he was trying to achieve and those required to deliver it was not unique to his organization. It was just another corporate communication failure brought about through deficiency within the leadership hierarchy.
The answer is to ensure that as leaders we have a communication framework that prevents this from happening and as leaders to understand our own accountability to take messages from the person at the top and to make them real for our teams.
If your team cannot easily describe how what they do delivers on the corporate strategy or worse, if they cannot describe the corporate strategy, then the time to begin clarifying this starts now……

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1 comment

  1. Glen

    Well said, my friend. Communication, in any organization, is one of the principle keys to success. The bigger the organization, the more necessary but difficult it is. But there are ways, from regular townhall gatherings to e-newsletters, executive accountability to an open-door policy at all levels.
    Everyone wants to be rowing in the same direction with the same goal in mind, and knowing they are making a difference. Communication is the medium, regardless of how it is accomplished.

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