Successful organizations know how to communicate. Observing them, it looks very simple. Everyone “speaks the same language.” Their culture dictates how people conduct themselves, speak to each other meet, email and use the different modes of communication. The message is clear, the delivery is concise, and the opportunities for miscommunication are few. Everybody gets the information they need within the time frame they need it and act on it effectively. In those organizations, leadership typically models the appropriate communication behaviors and others follow their lead.
It looks simple- but it is isn’t. Remembering the 720thinking mantra that everything revolves around the culture of an organization, good communication is achieved in those organizations that make it a keystone of their culture. The values support it and accountability demands it.
Successful communication breaks down into the right combination of WHAT, HOW, WHEN, WHERE and WHO.
Think about the WHAT of communication- vision, mission, goals, actions, rewards, consequences, appreciation and disappointment. Some leaders feel that the WHAT is all that matters, but they are very wrong. Studies show that in successful communications the WHAT represents less than 10%.
Then there is the HOW- speaking (in person one on one or in a group, on the telephone (one on one or conference call) or even an e-mailed audio file or podcast; writing ( via letter, memo, e-mail, written opinion); or video (video conference, Skype, website video, animation or simulation). Certain messages require face to face delivery for proper impact. Know which ones those are. E-mail and the telephone are overused. They are often the “chicken’s” way out. There are some that make telephone calls when they know the recipient is not at their phone, so they can leave the message as a voice message. What does that say about the organizational culture and values?
The other part of the HOW is also critical. It involves tone of voice, loudness and emphasis and body language. They shape the WHAT considerably. Directors of movies and plays work with actors to get the right delivery of lines for maximum impact. Leaders need to consider how they deliver their messages for the impact they desire. Leaders should also realize that much of this is lost if the message is not delivered face to face. Body language and facial expression make up a majority of the communication, and they are lost if the message is delivered via e-mail or letter.
The WHEN can mean time of day, or it can mean when in relation to a preceding act or an upcoming event. Timing can sometimes be critical to the success of the message and therefore should be carefully considered. Leaders sometimes react in anger or as a result of other emotions, and therefore have not thought through whether it is an appropriate time to communicate. Emotions can also shape the WHAT and HOW of the message, so the WHEN should often be after the emotions have subsided.
The WHERE- in the leader’s office, the other person’s office, in a large group setting- will depend on the WHAT. Some messages should be delivered privately, some to a group. Think about the impact desired and the unintended impacts that may occur if the WHERE is poorly chosen.
And lastly- the WHO. Some messages are private- reprimands, criticism, firings. The bare minimum of people should be present for them. Messages of appreciation should be public- good work and successes should be shared and reward should be public. In some multi-layered organizations, leaders give their message to the top tier(s) of leaders and expect them to pass it on down the line. Think about what can happen to the message as it is relayed from V.P.s to Directors to Managers to Supervisors to line workers. It can be done successfully if the leader’s communication is crystal clear and each succeeding messenger is as well. Of course, each deliverer needs feedback to make sure he or she has been understood and the message is intact. Leaders need to consider the ability of those below them to clearly deliver key messages, taking into account all of the key factors -WHAT, HOW, WHEN, WHERE and WHO.
Without clear communication, businesses cannot be truly successful. Information must be shared, understood and acted upon in a timely fashion. Employees, customers and vendors all need to be informed- accurately and clearly- to motivate them to continue to have positive experiences with an organization.