The trouble with Communication Excellence

You know I work in IT. Corporate Information Technology is known for sending out information emails so everybody in the organisation knows if any of the IT services is being upgraded, patched, serviced or replaced with something new and better. And this is not just in those organisations I worked for it’s a common theme in most organisations independent of location and culture. If yours is different – well done!

HR and Marketing have their own share of corporate communication. The internal communication specialists promote the corporate message, tell stories about achievements and are hot on the heels of employee engagement. The external comms master does the same just targeting business partners, contractors, customers and suppliers.

2-way communication

I ask myself, have we all forgotten that communication is not about our message? That communication is about conversation. Is about learning, is about understanding, and is about listening?

Social Media

It’s all about the customer these days. Facebook, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, Twitter, and internal collaboration sites allow for instant feedback. Isn’t that conversation, I hear you asking. Nope, I don’t think so.

My definition of communication excellence

First,

lets asked why are we communicating? That’s a very simple questions and it has a not so simple answer:

  • informing
  • complaining
  • understanding
  • knowledge gaining
  • training
  • preparing
  • arousing
  • instilling emotion (fear, happiness, …)
  • triggering action
  • entertaining

Secondly,

who is our audience? Are we shouting to the world? Or instructing a team member? Having a discussion about a concerning topic, or telling stories at the camp fire? If we are clear who we talk to or with, we are in a much better situation to make assumptions about the preparedness of the audience in respect to the communication content.

Third,

lets talk about the medium. ICT has a habit of sending out emails. Why? Because every user of IT systems has got email. It is easy to use and allows the recipient to read and act on it in his/her own time. It also deals with a dozen, a hundred or a thousand recipients with no difference for the writer.

Bullshit. There are plenty of other ways to communicate. Just a few

  • focus groups
  • super users
  • show and tell sessions
  • open forums
  • pamphlets
  • notice boards (online and on-wall)
  • discussion groups (online and in-person)
  • one on one
  • training sessions
  • facilitators

Often enough I hear from users: “I don’t have time to read emails from ICT. Most are not relevant to me.” We need to learn from this and make the time to do the hard yards.

Content

We write emails with the sender in mind: I know what I’m talking about. I replace most jargon with plain English. But, oops, there is still 80% jargon in it because I’m so used to it. And actually the wording for the Marketing department should be different compared to one for the Sales guys. The engineers may want more specifics and manufacturing likes it it plain and simple, “is production impacted yes or no and if so from when to when.”

I’m stereo-typing here simply to make a point.

My communication should have the recipient in mind. Easy to understand not easy to tell. Use written words, spoken language, body language, visuals, pantomime, drawings, interaction, demonstrations, test beds, trials, and what ever fits to describes the content best.

Summary

Excellence in communication is based on 3 principles

  1. Relevance for the recipient
  2. Meaningful for the recipient
  3. Timely for any response or action I expect
  4. Medium supporting the content, intent and with the recipient in mind

The trouble with this is in our fast paced world there is no time for making good communication. There is often only time for fulfilling the necessities. There is not enough training for good communication. Our training is still 80% focused on content. There is light in the tunnel, though.

  • Our sales people, for example, are “understanding your world” when they talk with a potential customer. And they mean it.
  • One other initiative has started using “learning first” and “easy to read not to write” approaches when doing problem solving and documenting it.

This needs spreading on so many levels.

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