“Communication? Yes, we can all do better, but really, how hard can it be?”
It is this attitude that denies business success.
When leaders see communication as no more than an organic process, they are immediately condemning it to failure and with it, their projects to mediocrity. Communication is the centre piece of all human relationships, including business relationships.
Who has ever said: “My marriage does not need much communication.”? Not many. The most common reasons given for the breakdown of marriages or live-in partnerships in Britain are communication problems.
The same is the case for business. We cannot expect our team members, our suppliers and customers to engage with us if we take no time to consider them as people with specific communication needs.
Creating strong advocates for our business requires strong and consistent communication. It takes commitment and humility; commitment to keep on communicating and humility to accept when we got it wrong. It also requires being purposeful, clear and determined to keep on improving our communication.
In our work with organisations of varying sizes, we have seen 5 key stumbling blocks to effective communication.
1. Rigid structures and focus on ‘this is how we have always done it.’
This truly is the death-nail of any progress in business, whatever area of operation this might be applied to. It will most definitely smother a customer-focused approach, creativity and forward-thinking. Communication needs to be allowed to flow freely, be creative, contribute to ideas and be challenged. If you have people in your organisation who are holding on to the way things have always been done, move them on.
If you are looking to break out of a communications rut that has been fuelled by keeping the status quo, re-organise your team. Take communication focused tasks out of a ‘hoarder’s hand and pass this on to new people in your team. Encourage the ‘hoarder’ to get involved in completely new types of projects so as to fuel their own creative thinking and communication as well and help them get out of fixed patterns of working.
If they still refuse to move with the times, might be time to move them on.
What kind of language do you use or allow your team to use? Is it positive or is it critical? Is moaning about work all day allowed? Are customers seen as a burden and someone to simply deal with as quickly as possible, i.e. in the most efficient, but not customer-centric way?
Language is absolutely key to leadership. Leaders who are looking for innovation and growth must start by evaluating their communications style and their language first.
For example, if a leader is cynical or snobbish in his or her way of dealing with his team or in talking about business partners or even customers, teams will follow. When leaders focus on solutions, show grace and help teams move forward rather than dwell on negatives, then teams thrive.
Language is the key to business success. If you are a leader, start by evaluating your own language.
3. Unwillingness to embrace new channels of communication
In a day and age of increasingly complex business structures and the need for unrivalled speed to deliver business outcomes, we need to embrace technology designed to help us meet these challenges.
Sure, it would be fantastic if we had enough time to meet all our counterparts face-to-face or, at least, over the phone. The reality, however, is different. In order to communicate effectively, we will want to look at the palette of communication tools, including digital tools. Few have time to open postal mail, read very detailed emails, or even to watch video.
Think of digital technology not merely as a tool to help you, but as a way to provide a more customer-centric service, relieving your customer’s stress, providing simple access to information and a way that helps them keep the ‘clutter’ out.
Be strategic in the use of all communication tools. Combine face-to-face, email, phone and online communication in a way that provides your customer with the most effective touch-point circle.
4. Blame culture
Communication cannot flow within a blame-culture. When team members constantly look at criticising others, highlight their mistakes fear and unhealthy competition is created which will stifle creativity and positive communication. In addition, it will turn positive accountability into moments of fear, which, in turn, will stop individuals from taking the necessary risks to innovate.
Don’t allow a blame culture to fester. Once it has taken hold, it will be difficult to dismantle.
5. Two ears and one mouth
Epictetus much-quoted statement: “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” sums up one of the core mistakes businesses make. Rather than listening to what customers want or need, businesses tend to merely tell their audiences what they do. For example, while a property developer uses materials of all kinds to build houses, to the customer they create homes. Charities can make the mistake of talking about what they do rather than what supporters can achieve. CEOs and Board members talk about how they are going to change their companies rather than creating an environment in which staff co-create and drive the required change.
Stakeholder engagement relies keenly on an organisation’s ability to listen. Corporates, public institutions, charities and even small businesses who fail to listen will find it very difficult to implement new projects which impact those around them without focusing on listening
Spending double the amount of time listening than telling is a great principle – let’s do more of it.
It is time that we re-think our approach to communication. Make it central and be strategic about it – for the sake of your customers, your business growth and your business survival.
If you would like to find out more about how to restructure and re-think your leadership and organisational communication in order to create a more successful business model, contact our consultant team at firstname.lastname@example.org.