COMMUNICATION: Executives Telling the Whole Story? Or, is Part of the Story Enough?

multi-gen-biz-boy-150x150I received a communication requesting recommendations for how to open up communication within the organization.  This is a bold and quite perceptive insight for an executive leader to recognize this need.  Communication is the root cause that erodes trust and if effectively woven into the cultural fabric, can sustain an organization.  Today it requires starting over with a “beginner’s mind” considering today’s social media climate.

Ivory-tower-150x150More and more, we are hearing about executives in their ivory tower that only tell their employees what they want to hear.  But, how much is too much?  At what time do we sacrifice productivity for the sake of being transparent and building a culture of trust?  The answer is simple, know your audience.  One size does not fit all.  Otherwise, communication can work against you just as it can work for you.

The quantity and quality of the content is just as important as the delivery method.  Some messages can be immediate and others can be less timely and provided on a recurring basis like in a newsletter or a group meeting.  But, realistically, how many people actually read a newsletter.  There is one thing we can learn in today’s information culture, short and fast messages are best.  We can take a lesson from Twitter—140 characters or less.  Adult attention span is short, compounded by the distractions of multi-tasking.

Consider the levels and or positions within the organization.  Send information that is relevant to their roles and could impact productivity.

Info-Overload-300x196Ordinarily, I would say to avoid information overload.  That is now a matter of individual perspective.  Know your audience.  Consider the corporate culture, beyond levels and job roles.  Specifically, I have to consider the audience’s comfort with technology, not mine!  This is something that crosses traditional boundaries.  Being in a multi generational workforce, X-ers and Millenials can traditionally handle loads more information than the maturing boomers.  Plus, they want it immediately.  So, consider the audience.  Today, only 1 in 4 prefers email and that will become 3 in 4 within the next 5 years.

Social-media-town-211x300In today’s age of social media, people expect transparency.  Transparency creates perceived trust.  There is not much that cannot be found today on the internet.  Better to control the message by sharing it myself, than let others do it for me and distort the information.  Otherwise, the grape vine takes over, quality deteriorates and negative impacts such as turnover occur.

Withholding critical information will erode trust. That said, there are times when all details are not appropriate. Keep it relevant to the level and what it takes to perform their job.

Culturally, other levels take their approach from the lead of the senior level, when sharing a message, keep it brief at the senior level with bullets and relate it to the strategic objectives. Stress risks and solution options. WIIFM1 The senior level is more strategic.

Middle level combines strategy and tactics so relevant information here may have more details to mid management. Front line should be more tactical with an understanding of how this relates to their role, the customer, and business objectives. They need the WIIFM (whats in it for me).

Senior leadership does not have to vet everything to everyone obviously. But, strategically communicating key information that is relevant, timely and accurate goes a long way to building trust, improved productivity and quality.

The frequency is also a consideration.  Some communication should be immediate and timely. Having an “open door,” that is actually open, allows dialog and helps management surface issues with time to respond.  This goes back to trust.
The communication should always be perceived by the respective audiences as 2-way, where they are empowered to ask questions and create a dialogue to build and maintain trust.

Additional communication can be in the form of that recurring newsletter we mentioned earlier.  All communication from the source should not always be perceived as bad news.  Take time to communicate positive accomplishments as well to reinforce the strategic objectives and support the mission.  Take time to recognize the efforts of key team players.  Newsletters and Bulletin Postings can of course reiterate other messages that were delivered and provide greater depth and updates.

I am interested to hear your thoughts on communicating within organizations today.  Share your experiences and recommendations.

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