By Beth Zimmerman
Regardless of an organization’s focus or size, communication is often identified as an area for organizational improvement. Why, when sharing information is easier in many ways than it has ever been, does communicating effectively remain such a common organizational challenge?
In many ways, it’s not surprising. Communication preferences vary across individuals; some prefer written information, whereas others may prefer talking. Interests may also vary; what one employee wants to know about might differ from what matters to another person. And then there is the matter of consistency; since managers have different communication styles and approaches, information flow can vary significantly across departments and locations where employees work.
Despite these variations in communication preferences and practices, there is a straightforward path to improved organizational communication. This approach is based on four foundational principles I call the “Four Be’s”: be reliable, be honest, be timely, and be interactive.
Ensuring that communication occurs regularly and predictably is a core practice for building organizational trust. In selecting approaches to enhance information flow across their organizations – such as by holding a quarterly staff meeting or sharing a weekly newsletter – leaders should carefully consider the ability to reliably deliver on the promise. Otherwise, announcing a new initiative that is not executed as expected or sustained for a meaningful period of time will only serve to undermine the environment of trust that improved communication is intended to enhance. Being reliable also includes following through and reporting back on previously discussed items where future actions or developments were planned.
Honest communication is key to organizational transparency. Even if communications are occurring regularly, if they don’t address employees’ interests or address what’s really on their minds, they can feel empty or even breed mistrust. Sometimes the burning issue is something that remains in an uncertain state or a topic that leadership cannot yet fully discuss. In this situation, staff members are likely to appreciate their leaders’ acknowledgement of the issue, even if they don’t know all the answers. An honest statement about what is known, with a plan for sharing further information when available, will go far toward establishing transparency as an organizational value.
Another way to ensure that organizational communications are relevant and meaningful is to strive for timeliness. A broad interpretation of timeliness reveals opportunities to communicate along the organization’s ongoing timeline:
- Before: What advance notice or preparation can you provide to staff so that they will be well positioned to meet upcoming demands and take advantage of key opportunities?
- During: What is occurring that may prompt employee questions or require further clarification?
- After: What milestones have recently been accomplished that can be celebrated, learned from, or built on for further success?
Organizations typically have room to enhance communications at each of these phases, but the “during” phase can be particularly challenging when something is underway that is unclear or possibly worrisome to staff. In these cases, remarking on known information in a timely manner is better than saying nothing until every answer is known, but rumors have long since spread across the organization.
Ensuring that an organization consistently shares relevant information in a timely and transparent manner is fundamental to strong organizational communication. But pushing information only gets an organization so far. To create real engagement, communication should be a two-way, ongoing conversation. In-person interactions are a very powerful and critical supplement to emails; one in-person interaction with a leader can enhance the power of all other types of communications for an employee. Internal social business platforms offer another approach for fostering information-sharing and connections among an organization’s busy and often dispersed members.
The “Four Be’s” offer a solid foundation for improved organizational communication. Stay tuned for more blog posts that will describe strategies for putting these principles into action.