Why effective organizational communication should be your top priority
April 25, 2019
Whether you’re playing football or rolling out new company policy, good communication is a key component of success. Without it, misunderstandings and frustration quickly kill collaboration.
Poor communication can stem from a number of issues from frequency and timing to medium and strategy. Mistakes as simple as a clumsily-written email or untamed team meeting can quickly damage the quality of your organizational communication.
Effective organizational communication doesn’t just make day to day work a little easier, it’s what enables your staff to plan, organize, motivate, and control. Its’ the foundation of collaboration, which makes it the foundation of business.
What poor organizational communication looks like
A few years ago, office comms consisted of a quarterly board meeting between the CEO and the upper management. Managers then took their meeting notes and turned them into a 200-slide PowerPoint presentation, which was then presented to the rest of the team over two or three hours in a stuffy meeting room.
Aside from being incredibly boring (sorry, PowerPoint fans), this method was also incredibly ineffective for three reasons:
- It created a one-way conversation.
- The lag from one meeting to the next left staff in the dark for long stretches of time. And if unexplained changes started taking place, that silence from upper management fueled worry and rumors.
- Presenting hours of information in a warm conference room was hardly the best way to keep listeners attention or expect any level of retention. Humans aren’t able to focus for much longer than 20 minutes on average, no matter how good your PowerPoint presentation skills are!
Effective communication is so much more than telling employees what’s going on; it’s about how you do it. The quarterly PowerPoint marathon presentation just doesn’t cut it!
The benefits of good organizational communication
For an organization to be successful, it should not only keep an open line of communication between managers, employees, stakeholders, and the community, it should also have a strategy in place to ensure communication is effective, consistent, and aligned with business objectives.
Sure, it requires planning, time, and potentially a little investment — but the payoff is huge:
- It builds trust which boosts engagement.
- It ensures employees have a voice. And that voice can provide the feedback your organization needs to improve and grow.
- It helps establish stronger working relationships between members of staff, which boosts loyalty.
- It reduces misinformation and misunderstanding, which in turn reduces demotivation and grievances.
- It helps employees understand the company mission and vision, which improves purpose and motivation.
- It improves efficiency and reduces potentially costly errors due to misinformation.
How to build an effective communication strategy in 6 steps
1. Communicate regularly & consistently
Whatever level of communication you commit too, just be sure it’s consistent. Consistent intervals, consistent mediums, consistent messaging, etc. When communication is sporadic or sends mixed signals/expectations to employees, it’s doing more harm than good.
So if you’re a CEO, you may want to arrange a minimum of four company-wide meetings a year (one for each quarter), each with a similar format that allows time for feedback and questions both during and after. If you’re a manager, you may want to schedule monthly or weekly catch ups with individuals, but find daily standups meetings more effective for teams. The point is to set out a consistent plan for your minimum level of communication and stick to it.
2. Keep it on-brand
Establishing the right voice is tricky, whether you work in a large organization or a small startup. But getting it right is essential to building a sense of continuity and trust within the company.
The CEO should set the tone and ensure all messaging — written and spoken — is in-line with the organization’s vision and culture. This may require coaching and regular training sessions to ensure the managers’ spoken and written communication skills are up to scratch, and that they know the company vision and communication policies inside-out.
After the information has been relayed to the appropriate individuals, it’s then their responsibility to provide feedback through the pre-agreed channels which should be defined by their managers.
3. Work out who your audience is
While it’s important to keep everyone informed, that’s not to say everyone needs to know everything in real-time. You should present information to the right audience at the right time.
For example, say your organization realizes its time to cut costs. If your staff hears this information without context, they’re liable to jump to conclusions. Despite the solution you find (which could be as simple as, for example, spending less money on equipment), your staff will have residual mistrust and anxiety. Even worse, you could see higher turnover as workers misinterpret their presumed level of job security.
All of this can be avoided with proper planning, messaging, and timing. For sensitive messages like this, the most effective communication strategy is top down. The CEO should first inform top-level managers, who then filter the messages down to their teams. This ensures information filters down in a controlled, consistent manner.
4. Consider your audience size, location, and demographic
When choosing your audience, you also need to think about who they are, where they are, and how they may want to receive the information.
For example, if you’re anticipating lots of audience interaction and questions, then smaller groups are better, so every question can be appropriately addressed. When the information is more one-way, such as a company update or some positive news, a larger audience is fine.
With global organizations, it’s important to plan ahead so offices in different time zones receive information clearly and at the same time as everyone else. You should also consider how you’re going to ensure your communication takes cultural differences into account.
5. Choose the right methods
Communication options have grown massively over the past 20 years. But with a boom in options comes a layer of complexity: now, organizations need to consider which method is most appropriate and then ensure this strategy is followed consistently throughout the organization. Here’s a quick run-through of the most popular methods available today:
Ahh, the employee handbook. Given to you on your first day of work, then stuffed in your drawer and promptly forgotten. This ubiquitous little book should list standard employee policies, as well as the company mission, values, and culture. While traditionally handed out in paper format, many companies are now embracing a digital version: easier to update and less likely to collect dust at the back of a drawer.
These can be team-wide or company-wide and are used to share information that impacts everyone involved. For global organizations, it may be necessary to host this virtually via a teleconference or webinar, so those located in different offices can receive the information in the same way, at the same time.
Traditionally, they’re sent out via email, although some organizations still hand out a hard copy. Company newsletters can be both internal and external. Internal newsletters should be engaging and are often less formal than their external client-facing counterparts.
Great for reaching a large group of people at once, but not great for interaction. It’s best for emergencies and information that don’t require employee feedback.
One-on-one meetings are best when the information impacts just one person, and if the information is sensitive.
Telephone is best used when the information relayed is urgent and less formal, or it’s not physically possible to be with the person you’re speaking to.
Surveys can be a fast, effective way to gather honest employee feedback. The only downside is that not everyone will make the effort to complete it. To get around this, you may need to incentivize feedback with a reward, such as a voucher.
Chat apps are becoming increasingly popular because they’re less formal than email, they’re more immediate (although they also work just as well for asynchronous communication), and they have features designed for collaboration.
Virtual team meetings
Many remote teams rely on videoconferences to make virtual meetings more productive. They’re instant, more personal, and help transmit tone more effectively than text alone.
6. Make it two-way
Last but not least, make communication two-way. Showing you’re listening to and acting on feedback makes individuals feel valued. Ensure communication can flow freely between all employees, stakeholders, and members of the community.
And don’t fear the feedback: it can provide managers with essential insights into the business and the health of their team. Employees often spot things busy managers overlook, whether that’s a new opportunity, a more effective way of doing things, or a problem that needs solving.
To encourage honest feedback, show people they can voice their opinions without negative repercussion via a medium that feels comfortable for them — whether that’s face to face, on the phone, or over a chat app. Embracing technology and widening the channels of communication available not only improves the flow of collaboration, but it makes it easier for everyone to communicate in a way that works best for them.