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Communications Errors Undermining Business More than Competition or Economy

Monday, March 7, 2005

The Society for the Advancement of Consulting (SAC) has canvassed its worldwide membership about organizational failings; surprisingly, poor communication was cited as a liability far worse than poor competitive reactions or inadequate adjustments to the economy.

"Companies are shooting themselves in the foot with alarming regularity, according to our members," says SAC CEO Alan Weiss, Ph.D., "and the irony is that the corrective action is a matter of applying proper communication techniques, not making capital expenditures."

Linda Popky, President of L2M Associates of Redwood City, CA notes, "Effective communication occurs when three factors come together: clear focused messages, audience-appropriate communications mechanisms, and an environment that promotes open dialogue. Too often organizations focus on the message without also considering the receptivity of the audience or whether the organization is appropriately prepared for the ensuing feedback and discussion."

Electronic technologies often hinder communication, rather than helping it. Wayne McKinnon, President of the McKinnon Group in Ottawa, says, "For some reason every communication problem represents a nail that needs to be driven, and e-mail is seen as the hammer. In reality, the email inbox is a microscope under which every imaginable communication mistake can be examined."

Growing organizations are especially vulnerable. "Communication tools and techniques that work effectively for small teams often are inadequate for large teams. One obligation of the team leader is to select communication tools and techniques that are appropriate for any number of team members," report David Lanners, President of LCS International in Dallas, TX.

"One of the greatest mistakes clients make when trying to communicate with employees is information overload. More often than not, less is better. Refrain from sending out a two-page memo when a one paragraph e-mail will suffice," observes Roberta Chinsky Matuson, Principal of Human Resource Solutions in Florence, MA. "Another big mistake employers make is including everyone on the memo distribution list, even if the subject matter is not relevant to the receiver. For example, sending out a memo to all employees regarding the use of vacation time is a mistake if you have part-time employees who are not eligible for this benefit. All this does is remind ineligible employees that others in the organization are receiving a benefit that they are not entitled to."

Three of the most common interpersonal errors, as summarized by John Carroll, President of Unlimited Performance in Mt. Pleasant, SC are:

  1. Failing to ask great questions that help the listener understand what makes another "tick."
  2. Failing to ask questions that connect a person with key outcomes of his or her role in the organization.
  3. Failing to ask for feedback each time you delegate, to ensure what you believe you said is what the other person heard. This single practice, used consistently, could reduce the number of errors caused by communication confusion by one-third.

Jenny Schade, President of JRS Consulting in Wilmette, IL, reports, "Marketing communications professionals overlook the fact that employees outside of the marketing department often think quite differently than those of us in the marketing business. As a restaurant manager once explained to me, 'I'm in the pancake business. I'm not a marketing guy. They send me this marketing information from the home office. I don't understand all of the words they use, but I'm too embarrassed to call and ask for an explanation. Instead, I just pile up the mailings until they reach a line on the wall of my office and then I throw them away.'"

Lisa Bing, President of Bing Consulting in Brooklyn, NY, provides this example: "Clients often assume they know what employees want or how they feel about an issue. We all make assumptions; however, the key is to check out your assumptions, especially on highly emotional or high-risk issues. I've been working with one banking executive whose team has worked together in one way or another for 10, sometimes 15 years or more. During an interview, one senior manager said, "We've worked together for the last 15 years; they ought to know by now." During the course of the work, it was discovered that the source of years of bottlenecks were resulting from different perspectives on the same issue…yet many assumed everyone else 'knew' in the same way that they knew."

Exploring employee reactions to the organization and its communications both increases your communications effectiveness and saves money. "Our members increasingly finding themselves engaged to assist in what we once thought was simply a natural act: talking to each other," says Weiss.

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