From all the culture analyses I have performed, I find it interesting that the vast majority of the organizations I survey have shortcomings in the same area. In my surveys, I look at how these organizations score in Appreciation, Morale, Trust, and Communication. In three out of every four organizations, the Culture Competency that needs the most attention is Communication.
I find it particularly interesting that this is true even in organizations with high scores. Even where organizations that otherwise have a good culture foundation still struggle with communicating effectively. And unfortunately, when the Culture Competency of Communication suffers, then all the efforts to build Appreciation, Morale, and Trust are undermined as well.
Here are five reasons why organizations have difficulty with getting the Culture Competency of Communication right.
Employees may perceive a lack of authenticity in leadership. Now this may originate in the leader or it may be in other managers within the organization. It may not be something intended on the part of leadership, but it can be picked up nonetheless.
People want to feel like they are getting the whole story. And if there is something in how the leader communicates that suggests that they are not being real, open, and truthful, then employees may think that there is more to the story that they are getting. And that can cause employees to question whether they have a full picture of what’s going on.
Sometimes leaders can have good intentions of communicating, but their good intentions do not translate into clear communications. If communications are hurried, or done as an afterthought, that can create gaps in what is being conveyed and received. As a result, leadership can unintentionally send an ambiguous message that gets mistranslated and causes confusion.
As I say in my first bestseller, Dear Boss: What Your Employees Wish You Knew, “clarity is one of the greatest gifts you can give your team.” Without clarity, assumptions may not be realized. When that happens, problems are sure to follow.
If leadership assumes that they have communicated without verifying what was received, then that can cause a breakdown in communication. And the flipside is true as well. Employees can assume that they communicated and leadership may still not have received the intended message. It’s incumbent on leadership that they be aware of what is being communicated by leadership and to leadership so that they can be the ones to verify that what was intended to be communicated actually was communicated.
Both parties need to know that the other party understood what they had to say. If there is a lack of understanding—on either party’s part—then communication has effectively broken down.
Leadership can often unintentionally not share what’s happening in the big picture with their employees because they feel that employees don’t need to burdened with the information, or they don’t have a need to know it. But most of the time, it’s because leadership just doesn’t even think about sharing it. And yet that information may be critical to calming fears among employees, or making them feel included, or helping them seeing the big picture. Not ensuring the flow of information can cause bottlenecks in communication between leaders and employees.
Here’s what I say in Dear Boss. “Look at information like water: it stagnates when it stays in one place.” Both being overly concerned about what information should be shared and being oblivious of the lack of information flow can cause a break in communication and cause active rumor mills.
In today’s high-tech world, we are capable of sharing information incredibly efficiently. Text messages, emails, and video messages allow us to send information quickly and easily to large amounts of people. And yet that efficiency can often backfire. If there is not a human connection in communication, then communication can break down.
Communication without engagement is not really communication. People need to be able to connect through the communication process. If people don’t have that opportunity, then much of the dynamic of the communication process is lost.
We should move our perspective of the Culture Competency of communication toward transparency. The purpose of communication is not to transmit information but to create relationships. And transparency is what fosters relationships. As I say in Dear Boss, “Transparency is to relationships as oil is to an engine.” Don’t let your relationships with your team get seized up because your communications were not transparent.
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Robert McFarland is the author of the bestsellers, Dear Boss: What Your Employees Wish You Knew and Dear Employee: What Your Boss Wishes You Knew. Robert is also President of Transformational Impact LLC, a leadership development consultancy helping companies be who they say they are by making their ideals actionable at the nexus of brand and culture.
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