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Poor Communication – The Culture Killer

Organizational culture is often comprised of many different facets. Often it is some combination of company (and personal) vision, values, beliefs, norms, goals and overall leadership approach/style. In many cases, your culture is driven by the head of your organization in terms of how he/she drives the organization’s vision, values and goals through their own leadership style. This approach, in turn, will cascade down throughout the organization and this cumulative effect comes together in the form of organizational culture. In essence, for front line staff, culture becomes how each department head embraces and leads the organizational vision/values, etc., along with how employees themselves internalize this messaging and embrace/display it themselves.

Poor CommunicationIt has often been said that culture is what truly defines one organization from another. Often culture IS one of your (most important) branding elements when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. Culture becomes a way of engaging your talent and sustaining your workforce longer term. Culture is that (often) undefinable “thing” that bonds an organization and becomes the underlying foundation for how the company and its employees “do” things.

So, based on that preamble and definition(s), I personally feel that having an effective culture (one that enables organizational success) is critical to business longevity. Therefore, maintaining an effective culture is critical to organizational success and as such, leaders need to be aware of and address anything that could derail an effective culture. It has been my experience that one of the single biggest killers of an effective culture is poor/ineffective communication. I have experienced and seen many organizations that once had effective organizational cultures that simply derail themselves through poor, ineffective or a complete disregard for organizational communication. You frequently see this happen in smaller organizations that go through a rapid growth phase, or often in companies that have a change in leadership and the new regime doesn’t see the need/importance of effective communication.

Typically, organizations that are experiencing (poor) communication as a culture killer display many common symptoms:

  1. Poor employee survey results
  2. Lack of management/leadership visibility
  3. Important deadlines/meetings/events that were once important to the company are missed with no explanation as to why and what’s next
  4. Poor product/service quality – often predicated by processes and procedures not being followed, primarily due to the fact they haven’t been communicated to staff
  5. Lack of accountability at all levels – things go wrong yet no one is accountable. Nothing changes, no one changes and mistakes continue to happen
  6. The rumour mill is THE source for information – staff hear about things from other departments, staff members, customers, etc. BEFORE they hear about it from their manager
  7. Worse yet, the rumour mill ends up being the TRUTH

Having shown you some of the symptoms, it is important to understand that the end result of poor communication killing your culture is that you have disengaged employees (which means a lack of productivity and quality) and that you will eventually experience costly turnover. All of these things cost your organization millions of dollars a year because poor communication is killing your culture and eroding the foundation of your “house.”

So, what should you do? For starters, as organizational leaders, you need to make communication a priority. This means, any type of communication to staff, whether proactive or in response to something, needs to be planned out. This way, you can appropriately craft your message to make sure the content is correct AND it is communicated to staff efficiently and effectively. In terms of planning out your message, the creation of your communication plan should consist of two parts – the first is the planning of the communication to staff and the second is the actual content of the message itself. Here is a quick primer on how to do both:

Planning your message:

  1. What is the audience(s) you are communicating to? This could include other members of your sr. leadership team, line managers, all employees, etc.
  2. What is your key message(s)? What EXACTLY do you want to communicate to your employees? What is the most important thing you need them to understand or act on from your message?
  3. Are there any potential objections/or could there be any resistance to the message being communicated? For every group identified in step 1, map out any potential resistance or potential negative outcomes you can think of and how best to overcome them.
  4. Identify the best channel(s) to use to communicate the message to staff. Is the message best delivered verbally from the CEO? Is a company-wide e-mail message best? Should there be a formal memo issued and cascaded by supervisors? Is the company intranet site appropriate? Is it a combination of methods? Regardless, the communication channels must be clearly mapped out in advanced.
  5. List the key stakeholders who will help communicate the message. This could be anyone from department managers, Human Resources, Marketing or any other employees involved with the creation and support of the communication event.

Crafting the message:

  1. Describe, in brief, what you want to tell the employees. You need to be clear with the 5W’s, (who, what, when, where, why) but you do not want to overwhelm the message with a lot of detail. Your goal is to get your main message across to employees as quickly and effectively as possible.
  2. Be specific on what you are communicating. Is the message focused on a change in organizational structure, a change in personnel, a process, policy, procedure change, etc? Make it clear in your message what it is you want to communicate.
  3. If appropriate, your message may also want to contain some background information on why a decision or change was made and/or it may explain how a decision was reached. This will vary greatly from organization to organization and from situation to situation. The key point is that by providing some information in this area, it shows employees what factors were considered (were important) when coming to an organizational decision.
  4. WIIFM. What’s in it for me? If your communication involves any type of perceived or real benefit to employees, identify in the message what it is.  That is, what should your staff expect as a result of this communication and how does it impact them?
  5. What is next? The very best communication that occurs concludes with some form of what’s next statement. That is, will more changes be forthcoming? Can staff expect to hear from the CEO in the next few days/weeks/months, etc? This is the time to set expectations with employees. Perhaps the answer is that there is no more communication required – state that.

The moral of the story is this – as managers and leaders you need to be aware of the importance of good communication and the impact it has on your culture. Not every message requires the degree of detail listed above; however, if you keep those steps in mind as a game plan every time you DO communicate, you will do a much better job of ensuring that poor communication does not, in fact, become a culture killer in your company. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Mister GC/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Planning info courtesy of hrdownloads.com


2 Responses

  1. You could not have said it any better – you hit the nail on the head – Thank-you!

  2. Thanks Kimberley – I appreciate that!

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