Category: Communication

Why all Communication Interventions should start with a Proper Diagnosis


j0341502Houston – We have a communications problem!

How often don’t we hear that sort of remark! And even worse, this: “We know that communication is a problem, but the company is not going to discuss it with employees (Excerpt from a Humour column – words uttered by an AT& T manager)”.

The issue is that were there is smoke there’s fire, and what organisations need to do is pinpoint the real cause of the communication problem. And that is dependent on proper communication diagnosis.

Let’s analyse this word Diagnosis: Diagnosis – The effective solution of organisational communication problems is dependent on a thorough diagnosis. In the absence of a thorough diagnosis, a person may apply the wrong solutions and this approach can lead to the prescription of treatments for ailments that do not exist.

Here is some guidelines for proper diagnosis:

  • Pinpoint and describe the problem
  • Gather and interpret the evidence
  • You can rely on your own judgement but preferably you should use someone that understands communication as a process, both from an interpersonal and organisational point of view.
  • Look at the big picture: i.e. regard the entire organisation as the client (Business units are only a system within a supra system).
  • Always perform root cause analysis i.e. so you can determine the real causes and not just address symptoms
  • Keep in mind that problems occur in clusters. When one problem or barrier has been identified, there will most likely be others associated with it. A staff member who does not show responsibility because of undefined or unrealistic work expectations will likely also show a level of distrust in his or her superiors.
  • Remember that Problems and barriers tend to sustain and reinforce each other.

In performing the diagnosis you should pay attention to this as well:

  • Face -to – face communication, whether one-in-one or in groups;
  • Written communication in the forms of letters, memos, e-mails and internal reports;
  • Communication patterns among individuals, sections and departments;
  • Communication channels and frequency of interaction (communication workload);
  • Communication content, it’s clarity and effectiveness;
  • Information needs of individuals, sections and departments;
  • Information technology, particular with respect to the human and organisational aspects of using communication and information technology;
  • Informal communication, particularly as it affects motivation and performance;
  • Non-verbal communication such as physical layout of work areas, marks of seniority or norms of dress and manner, as they affect the efficiency of the organisation;
  • Communication climate, or “corporate culture”
  • The use of technology and Social Media. Yes, I put it last. Tools are tools, first determine intent and usage.

Remember that as a rule all communication interventions should start with a proper diagnosis.

This is what a proper Communication Audit can do for a company. Such an audit should ideally be performed by independent 3rd party experts, just like the annual financial audit.

How to Communicate Safety–Differently


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Many Safety Managers use posters and pithy statements to communicate messages and raise awareness about the need to be safe, think safe and act safe.

In this messaging, choice of words becomes important. Standard messaging don’t always cut it.

Thinking out of the box, or using humour can help. I love this example:

Effective Evacuation notification:

Before Texas passed mandatory evacuation law, no one could be ordered out of their home.

A few years back when a hurricane threatened the Texas coast. A county sheriff issued the statement on local radio.

“If you are not evacuating, please paint in large numerals on you roof the number of people staying. That way we’ll know how many bodies to look for”.

Short and Effective. Love it.

Quote–Lesson for Companies & Internal Communicators


“The solution to many organizational problems lie within the company – itself – with its own people. If you create an environment that encourages people to communicate their perceptions about problems and issues that prevent the company from being as effective as it can possibly be, and then solicit their input about what can be done, you tap a reservoir of talent that is more than adequate”

(Andrew O Manzini – Organizational Diagnosis- a Practical Approach to Company Problem Solving and Growth)

Footnote: This quote illustrates why internal communication processes are crucial to prevent reputation risk and employee stakeholder uprisings. Many years ago whilst still in Corporate, myself and a colleague wrote an internal report that Management discarded. Months later they employed an international consulting group whose findings were 80% plus similar to our findings and recommendations. Be careful – never ignore the internal prophets.

The Shackles Of "We Have Always Done It This Way"


Organisations are like elephants – they learn through conditioning.

Trainers shackle young elephants with heavy chains to deeply embedded stakes.

After years of being chained, older elephants never try and leave even though they have the strength to pull the stakes out. Their conditioning limits their movements with only a small metal bracelet around their foot – attached to nothing

Like elephants, many companies are bound by earlier conditioning restraints. “We have always done it this way” is a limit to an organisation’s progress especially in this new era of enhanced speed.

In order to survive in this new society you have to let go of the shackles of the past. Too many organisations still have metal bracelets around their feet. However to make things happen you need to mobilise the support of your people behind your change.

And the process through which to do this: COMMUNICATION. My questions to you or to ask your clients is this:

  • “What shackles are constraining communication flow in your organisation”
  • Isn’t it about time for a relook or a new look at communication practices in your company?

Why Writing Concisely is Crucial


So, I started this piece by using the word brevity, then I thought to myself, who knows that word.

Concise and exact use of words is crucial in communication, just try and decode the following:

“We respectfully petition, request, and entreat that due and adequate provision be made, this day and the date herein after subscribed, for the satisfying of this petitioner’s nutritional requirements and for the organising of such methods as may be deemed necessary and proper to assure the reception by and for the said petitioner of such quantities of baked products as shall, in the judgement of the aforesaid petitioner, constitute a sufficient supply thereof”.

I guess a point can be made for the KISS method in writing – Keep it simple and short.

No wonder swear words abound. It fits the KISS description accurately.

As one professor once said:” Why use a twenty five cents word if a five cents one will do”.

The above: Give us this day our daily bread.

The Triple Filter Test–One Way to stop Gossiping & Rumours


In ancient Greece, Socrates was reputed to hold knowledge in high esteem.

One day an acquaintance met the great philosopher and said, “Do you know what I just heard about your friend?”

“Hold on a minute,” Socrates replied. “Before telling me anything I’d like you to pass a little test. It’s called the Triple Filter Test.”

“Triple filter?”

“That’s right,” Socrates continued. “Before you talk to me about my friend, it might be a good idea to take a moment and filter what you’re going to say. That’s why I call it the triple filter test. The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?”

“No,” the man said, “actually I just heard about it and…”

“All right,” said Socrates. “So you don’t really know if it’s true or not.

Now let’s try the second filter, the filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my friend something good?”

“No, on the contrary…”

“So,” Socrates continued, “you want to tell me something bad about him, but you’re not certain it’s true. You may still pass the test though, because there’s one filter left: the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my friend going to be useful to me?”

“No, not really.”

“Well,” concluded Socrates, “if what you want to tell me is neither true nor good nor even useful, why tell it to me at all?”

This is why Socrates was a great philosopher & held in such high esteem.

Next time someone starts gossiping, you know what to do.

The 30-second Communication Seminar


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There are three steps to successful communication:

The first is to know what you want.

The second step is to find out what the other person wants.

The third step is to discover how both of you can win.

Successful communication is communication that achieves the desired result.

Education & Training Programs Woefully Reputation Deficient


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On the 2nd September 2010 I made a point in a blog post Discuss. Dissect. Decide that Reputation is a mission – critical task and is of such importance that it should be included in every meeting’s agenda and be included as a must in the Company Learning & Development Training Calendar – as a must and not an elective.

My point and reservations have now been vindicated through some interesting research by a company ReputationInc .

Here are the main facts they discovered by examining the curriculums of the leading Executive MBA programs identified by the Financial Times. They were looking to see how reputation was incorporated into the course work.

  • 1 in 5 leading EMBA programs teach none of the 10 core reputation disciplines
  • Just one of the 50 leading EMBAs has ‘Reputation’ as a core module
  • Communications & relationship building skills are taught in less than 20% of programs
  • Government & policy relations is covered by fewer than 1 in 5 EMBA program
  • Governance and ethics is the most popular reputation discipline being taught to business leaders today (no surprise there)

ReputationInc cites McKinsey research that found that one-half of global CEOs say managing external affairs is one of their top-three priorities. Yet one fifth of the world’s top 50 global Executive MBA programs do not offer any training in the core disciplines of reputation management.

They report that the missing disciplines include CSR, stakeholder engagement, government relations, communications, and reputation management strategy.
 
More worrying still, just two of the top 50 business schools surveyed offer a dedicated reputation module and 80% offer no training on either public affairs or external communications – the two core “hands-on” skills executives need to build reputation. “The results reveal a frightening gap between the reputation skills business leaders must possess in 2012 and the cursory attention they get in the traditional executive MBA.” 
                                                         
The programs with the highest ranked scores for including reputation are Henley Business School, Essec/Mannheim, and the University of Texas at Austin: McCombs.
 
I also agree with this statement: “On this evidence, companies and shareholders should be concerned that Executive MBA programmes risk creating ineffective business leaders who leave academia without the skills to actively manage the precious asset of corporate reputation,” said John Mahony, CEO, ReputationInc.  “Reputation management skills are vital for today’s CEO who sets the tone and mood for a corporation and must lead from the front in communicating the purpose of the brand and its value to society.

Many managers are not born ready to meet this challenge and will benefit from coaching and confidence building in reputation, something today’s Executive MBA courses fail to adequately provide.”

The problem though is that it is not just MBA modules that lack this, but also Director training programs, Government Officials training, town councillors development programs and Internal Learning & Development programs that suffer from this lack.

The research clearly shows that training in managing external relationships is mandatory for all executives (Again a vindication that my Stakeholder Reputation Management course has filled a very important gap these past few years)

It is my belief that the problem is derived from the past where it was believed that Reputation was naturally an extended PR & Communication function and discipline. And, although communication forms and integral part of the discipline, there is now a realisation that Reputation Management requires advanced systemic thinking skills and thorough understanding of intangible issues, reputation and strategic business drivers.

The report goes on to say that “These findings should be a red flag to corporate affairs directors and those responsible for leadership development in global corporations.  Knowingly or not, next generation leaders will be under-prepared
to steward their company’s corporate reputation in the coming decade.”

This statement just reminded me of the conversation in 2010 I had with the Learning & Development Manager of an international bank when they were considering my Stakeholder Reputation Management program for internal use. He was of the opinion that it was not a must, but should be an optional elective for senior executives.

How these words will haunt now. If only the financial services community understood that importance. Just perhaps there may have been less Reputation Damage.

As Warren Buffett, the world’s most astute investor have said many times: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it, and if you understand this YOU WILL DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY”

Funny though that most managers miss the last part of the quote. The research quoted above shows how important understanding this difference is.

The missing difference in the MBA programs – “ If I do this, or make this decision, will it harm my (own) or my company’s reputation?”

Understanding this difference is vital in an Era where Reputation is the New Bottom Line.

Who – or What is right? Just a Random Thought


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Who – or What is right?

Just because you are right, does not mean that you need to exercise that point or view.

We are not fish who have to take a bait. What is more important- Winning the War or winning a battle?

We have choice, and I think that a lot of people have lost that ability to think about the decisions they make. As Postman & Weingartner said in Teaching as a Subversive Activity….we need to become crap detectors.

Even Anthony Robbins indicated that it is useful to sometimes check your own values and beliefs, to see if they are still relevant.

But anyway, I just thought I would share this story.

An old man and a young boy were travelling through their village with their donkey. The boy rode on the donkey and the old man walked.

As they went along they passed some people who remarked it was a shame the old man was walking and the boy was riding.

The man and boy thought maybe the critics were right, so they changed positions.

Later, they passed some people that remarked, “What a shame, he makes that little boy walk.”

They then decided they both would walk!

Soon they passed some more people who thought they were stupid to walk when they had a decent donkey to ride. So, they both rode the donkey.

Now they passed some people that shamed them by saying “how awful to put such a load on a poor donkey”.

The boy and man said they were probably right, so they decided to carry the donkey. As they crossed the bridge, they lost their grip on the animal and he fell into the river and drowned.

The moral of the story?

If you try to please everyone, you might as well kiss your ass good-bye!

Who – or What is right? Just a Random Thought


Who – or What is right?

Just because you are right, does not mean that you need to exercise that point or view.

We are not fish who have to take a bait. What is more important- Winning the War or winning a battle?

j0409404We have choice, and I think that a lot of people have lost that ability to think about the decisions they make. As Postman & Weingartner said in Teaching as a Subversive Activity….we need to become crap detectors.

Even Anthony Robbins indicated that it is useful to sometimes check your own values and beliefs, to see if they are still relevant.

But anyway, I just thought I would share this story that might help you to decide who to favor when faced with conflict.

An old man and a young boy were travelling through their village with their donkey. The boy rode on the donkey and the old man walked.

As they went along they passed some people who remarked it was a shame the old man was walking and the boy was riding.

The man and boy thought maybe the critics were right, so they changed positions.

Later, they passed some people that remarked, “What a shame, he makes that little boy walk.”

They then decided they both would walk!

Soon they passed some more people who thought they were stupid to walk when they had a decent donkey to ride. So, they both rode the donkey.

Now they passed some people that shamed them by saying “how awful to put such a load on a poor donkey”.

The boy and man said they were probably right, so they decided to carry the donkey. As they crossed the bridge, they lost their grip on the animal and he fell into the river and drowned.

The moral of the story?

If you try to please everyone, you might as well kiss your ass good-bye! Think carefully about which stakeholders are relevant and needs to be pleased.

A Lesson in Communication for Trainers


Two priests got into an argument about smoking and praying at the same time. They couldn’t resolve it, so they decided to each write the Pope and have him decide it.

When both had received their answers, they got together. "What did His Holiness tell you?" asked the first.

"He said that it was fine," answered the second. "What did he tell you?"

"Very strange," responded the first. "He told me that it was forbidden. What did you ask him, anyway?"

"I asked if it was all right to pray while smoking. He said that prayer is always appropriate. What did you ask him?"

"I asked him if it was all right to smoke while praying. He said that smoking would defame the sacred act, so it is forbidden."

Often, it’s all in how you ask the question!