Communication – the Most Important Cultural Tool

Welcome to our latest blog in the Culture Hacker series. Today we will discuss communication because it is the most valuable cultural tool. Communication is how we socialize team members to understand what is most important to and how to be successful in an organization. To communicate effectively – whether speaking face-to-face, communicating through actions, making time for others to reach out to you, or implementing technology in your team communication – the audience must understand what is being communicated, otherwise there is no communication.

Speaking Face-to-Face

Management author Peter Drucker wrote, “Communication is in the mind of the recipient: you’re just making noise if the other person does not understand you.” What does that noise sound like? Well, think about Charlie Brown’s teacher, Miss Othmar. Remember what she sounds like? Whenever she talks it’s, “Wha, Wha, Wha, Wha, Wha.” This is exactly what managers sound like when team members do not understand the words coming out of their mouths.

So, when it comes to communication, the focus must be on understanding, regardless of the medium. To do this, managers need feedback from the audiences that do understand them, but please do not think that by just asking, “Do you understand?” the task is done. As I have learned over the years, when people have to answer yes to that question, many times, they do not really understand. Managers need to have people explain back what needs to happen or even demonstrate what is expected.

When communicating by speaking, remember that just because managers have titles, it does not make them effective communicators. Unfortunately, many managers think that their title means they can say something once and everyone listening will automatically understand what is meant and execute it perfectly. This is just a sure-fire way for everyone to end up disappointed and frustrated. Here are a few communication tips to ensure accuracy:

  • Check for understanding
  • Keep the messages short and simple
  • Get to the point of a message quickly
  • Ensure the timing and environment are conducive for the intended audience to actually be able to listen

Communicating Through Action

The good news is that managers do not have to (and should not) rely on speaking as the only form of communication. Actions speak louder than words, especially as a manager. Remember that the most watched sport in the world is boss watching. Employees watch the boss for many reasons, but most importantly, to understand how to act and interact with others. That is why leading by example is such a critical communication mechanism. As physicist Albert Einstein wrote, “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only means.”

Keep in mind that the example should not just focus on a manager’s interactions with a customer, vendor, or another manager; the most important example they set is how they interact with and treat staff. Many times we have heard managers talk about the importance of greeting customers and then watch them arrive each day and fail to greet their staff as they come to work. Managers cannot have the attitude, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Making Time for the Team

Of course, communication cannot just be a one-way directive, even though many managers treat it like that. Ensure managers are receiving messages from the staff as well as giving them to have effective communication in the business. When it comes to getting feedback and messages from the staff, managers need to be both approachable and available. Leaders also need to ensure they do not get upset every time something negative comes their way, otherwise, people will not bring these important messages to their attention.

Team members need to have access to managers. Don’t say that this is covered by the open door policy, because that is probably the most disappointing managerial tool quoted today. While most managers are comfortable with their staff bringing them everything, it gets a lot more difficult to have communication anytime. Managers are great at quoting, “Let’s meet later,” when it comes to their open door policy, and if there is one thing leaders have learned, it is that later never comes. A best practice in the workplace is for managers to set up times each day when they are truly available so that staff can come to rely on actually having some communication time when they need it. Outside of emergencies, scheduled open door times are an effective face-to-face communication tool.

Implementing Technology in Team Communication

Email is, of course, an important communication tool, but keep in mind it is best suited to reinforce messages and communicate data. Don’t rely on this or any other form of written message to communicate important information, because it fails to provide essential communication cues like enthusiasm, commitment, and urgency. Providing recaps or updates in written form are useful and for some staff, highly effective, but they cannot work alone.

One of the newest ways to communicate effectively within the organization is online, via the company intranet or third-party platform. By creating a social media platform that allows staff to engage, discuss, and share ideas, companies have found increased conversation and communication. A great case study for the type of impact this can have is Telstra, Australia’s largest telecommunications and media organization. Ex-CEO David Thodey is widely recognized for his turnaround of the company since 2009. His focus was to reinvent Telstra as an outstanding customer service organization that not only significantly improved the customer’s experience but also doubled the valuation of the company to more than $80 billion. He focused on changing the culture at Telstra and is a great advocate of values-based leadership. Australian Financial Review quoted Thodey in May 2015 for writing, “Our values drive our behavior more than rules, and I think any organization has got to move that way, because it drives people to take ownership and be accountable, and it also drives better outcomes for the customer.”

One of the ways Thodey has successfully transformed their corporate culture is through communication and social media. They are one of the largest users of Yammer, a social network platform that allows companies to share files and data and initiate conversations. With more than 25,000 employees registered on the site, Thodey uses this forum to comment, communicate, give insights into his thinking, and respond to employee questions and thoughts. Per an article in ZDNet in 2013, he suggests that Yammer “has solicited a degree of honesty and openness” throughout the organization. He goes on to say that utilizing this social media platform has been “the biggest change in Telstra in terms of breaking down the layers of management and thinking.”

Technology is offering many benefits to organizations willing to invest and commit to open and honest communication.  Please check out this blog by Michael Strong, our VP of Brand Development, who provides some simple guidelines on how to utilize social media and technology for improved business communication. Any use of technology requires a high degree of commitment from management to be active on platforms and to be transparent and ensure no repercussions for staff that voice any dissenting views or thoughts. But in reality, this best represents the way the world is evolving, so sooner rather than later managers must learn to evolve, too.

When it comes to communication, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Managers have to engage many mediums to ensure the message is received by each team member. The most important cultural mechanism in business is communication, so spend some time considering the methodology that will work best within your unique culture.

For fresh insights into modern business communication opportunities, reach out to SGEi. Thanks for reading, and please check out the next blog, in which we discuss the role of meetings in the modern work environment and how important information can be delivered best.

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