Recently, ML, the COO of IT Global Performance Management at a global bank told me, “Everyone talks about change, but my real challenge is the rapid escalation of complexity. The complexity that comes with acceleration, interconnectedness and interdependence. How am I supposed to cope with all this complexity, not to mention capitalizing on it?” Management experts would tell him that he and his organization need to be more creative:
- Invite disruptive innovation
- Build dexterity in operations
- Reinvent customer relationships
- Question assumptions
- Take balanced risks
- Be really flexible
- Find new sources of revenue
…the list goes on. But I think creativity should also extend to communication. The new generation of employees, partners and customers demands new, creative communication. Managers need to do a good job communicating values, mission, strategy and direction from the top. But they also need to use “viral” forms of communication to engage people inside and outside the organization. On other words, they need to be: experimental, inventive, flexible, balanced, strategic.
But many managers I work with are trapped in old communication approaches: tactical, complicated, top-down, one-way and one-time. “I speak, you listen.” Focused on informing people, not communicating with or at them. (Remember: communication is a process of sending and receiving!) Look what recently happened to Toyota with its slow communication response to its Prius and Lexus recalls. Merck’s VIOXX recall. BP’s communication after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. All were victims of the vagaries of uncertainty, but their communications turned bad news into PR disasters. Using the old communications approaches comes with risks:
- Ineffective communication is very expensive
- The consequences of poor communication can ripple
- The increasing complexity of the 21st century workplace increases misunderstandings
- In a global economy, sometimes the only way to reach people is to use virtual, viral communication
- Our brains are not hard-wired for complexity
So how should managers and leaders communicate?
- Use two-way communication with everybody, including customers
- Break down communication barriers
- Use a wider range of communication approaches
- Tap informal, innovative communication channels
- Minimize complexity, build simplicity
Management communication is really different from other kinds of communication. A well-written or artful message just won’t do: you only succeed if your message gets the response you want. In a complex, uncertain world, you’ve got to communicate in a reliable, compact and meaningful way — for the audience, that is! This means you better know your audience well enough to make the right communication choices. Start being audience-centric.
To do this, try following a three-step communication model:
- Prepare yourself and your receiver
- Send your message(s)
- Check for understanding
Want to know how each step works and what questions to ask? Want to read stories of how to use – and not use – the model? Check out my next posts.