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Marc Morgan

Aren't We in The Communications Business?

6-7-2013

How many times have you heard the above words? They usually come around the time someone (or a lot of someones) fails to communicate, inform, or loop someone in on information important for multiple people to know. So, given that we are, in fact, in a business that communicates with an audience 24/7, the absurdity of being unable to communicate with someone 20 feet from your desk is exposed and highlighted by using sarcastic humor, just like they did on WKRP. Funny stuff, right? Not so!

Communication problems have been and continue to be a critical area of concern across every industry, the government, educational institutions, religious organizations, and on and on. Organizations that communicate well, both internally and externally, succeed far more than they fail. Conversely, those that dont communicate well fail far more than they succeed.

Just how dramatic an effect can poor communication have? The then-head honcho of Sony was asked why his company, the technological beast of the 20th century, didnt come up with the iPod. His answer was (paraphrasing), My people werent talking to each other. Apples development of the iPod had a seismic effect not only on both companies, but, arguably, on society as a whole.

Creating a business that communicates well isnt really all that hard. First, you have to identify where your organization is strong and where its weak in this area. Then develop a formal strategy to transform your company. Finally, and this is the hard part, you must exhibit and practice great discipline and diligence in executing the strategy. Here are some tips and perspectives that will help you in this important undertaking:

Does Your Culture Support Good Communication?
Organizations that communicate well dont punish open dialogue, discussion, and debate. They encourage it, publicize it, and reward it. Other organizations treat open dialogue as anything from an annoyance to sedition and treason, punishable by who knows what. If the values and behaviors of your team are more like the latter than the former, then the first step of your strategy needs to be a re-evaluation of which team members will be working for you next week and which wont.

Leadership Is Required
Once you embark upon the quest of building a high-communication culture, several things will happen. First, the part of your team who cant or wont embrace this will fight it tooth and nail and do everything they can to undermine it. Second, those people, and perhaps others along with them, will fall in love with the process and want to analyze things to death in the name of open communication. There are limits and boundaries in any endeavor, and encouraging better communication in a business is no different. The best way to handle this is to, well, communicate to your team what the boundaries are and why they need to be put in place so that the wheels of commerce can continue to turn. Discuss it, debate it, come to a consensus on a solution, and then, as their leader, close the discussion and encourage a unified effort going forward.

The same thing goes for meetings. While you might discover that meeting with your people more often should be part of your plan, dont fall into the trap of having more meetings just for the sake of getting together. This isnt about more meetings or more dialogue for their own sake, its about more effective communication.

The Current Environment Isnt Doing You Any Favors
When sociologists put labels on our world today, I think one of the things they will say is that we are in the Era of the Substitute You. The technologies that exist today are a double-edged sword. Wonderful, time-saving, enabling a greater capacity for learning and creating thats all true. But they are also capable of endangering the art of human interaction and contact. Years ago, I actually had a manager tell me he resisted conversations in the break room with staffers because Thats why we have staff meetings, isnt it? In todays world that would change to Why should I talk to them in the halls, didnt they read my blog? Texting instead of talking, sending e-mail bombs instead of confronting and discussing are examples of how modern technology works against better communication within organizations, even though the intent is obviously very different. Use technology to enhance communication, not replace personal interaction.

I told you this isnt a hard problem to solve, at least on paper. But it requires leadership and support to pull it off, especially in the long run. It also requires a healthy amount of one of the most valuable and hard-to-find commodities of all time: common sense.

Communicate well, my friends!

Marc Morgan is the former SVP and chief revenue officer for Cox Media Group; he retired in 2011. He can be reached at marc@marcmorganconsulting.com.



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