Insight article

Communications barriers

Martin and I recently ran a couple of workshops at the CiB conference in Brighton, which focused on employee engagement. How I am beginning to resent that phrase ‘employee engagement’. I would much prefer to use the term ‘connectivity’. Perhaps that’s a subject for another day.

Anyway… what was interesting was hearing from the delegates what the key barriers are to getting strategic messages embedded in the organisation. In no particular order, these were what the common obstacles are:

• Management (don’t just think middle management either – the blocks can come from senior managers as much as the middle managers! In fact, when we referred to middle managers as being ‘the granite wall’, one delegate went as far as calling senior management ‘the brick wall’).

• Too many messages, and too much complexity

• Management speak and tone of voice – ‘corporate claptrap’ and jargon, and a fear of informality

• Complexity of the organisation (diverse and disparate audiences)

• Varying interpretation of messages

• ‘Too many cooks’, or too many decision-makers involved

• Lack of clear message from the top

• Truth and honesty (or lack of it) about failure

• Inability for people to see where they fit in / relevance

• The conflict between communications and senior managers

What was so interesting to me was the frustration that so many communicators feel at being unable to influence senior managers and be seen as strategic partners rather than simply tactical deliverers. How close – or how far away – are we to having a Communications Director on the Board? Will this ever happen, and what will change in organisations to create that shift? Will organisations ever appreciate the true importance of communication, or are senior leaders simply paying lip-service to it? Do communicators need to focus more on outcomes rather than process, and do those outcomes link to the objectives of the business?

Lastly, I’d like to finish with a story about something that happened this week, which goes to show that telling the wrong kind of story can come back and bite you in the proverbial butt! The Chairman of some publishing company I’d never heard of was trying to sell me advertising space as part of a new venture – a directory of business reports aimed at C-level executives. Now I’m always suspicious of people who give themselves high-brow titles when in fact they come from a tiny little company where the Chairman is equally the chief cook and bottle washer – or are merely salespeople selling advertising space. It really smacks of arrogance. Just your name will do, thank you very much. The cost of the space was only £5k, but it was £5k that I didn’t actually believe would add value in this particular case. He was doing a reasonably good job at trying to persuade me, nevertheless, but my decision to firmly decline was made when the individual concerned sympathetically and helpfully agreed that £5k was a lot of money…and for a reasonably small company it was like spending one’s own personal money. Like the £5k wristwatch he had bought himself the previous week.

Have a great weekend.

Nailia Tasseel