One of my most significant lessons came early in my career, when I was put in charge of a large-scale employee attitude survey as an HR Manager at the Gillette Company. Overall, the feedback was strongly positive with 93% of employees saying that they would recommend the company as a good place to work, and positive response rates over 50% in 17 out of 18 categories. The only category that fell below 50%? Communication. Only 47% of our employees at that time thought we did a good job at communicating, but we were still 3% higher than the national average! I have had the opportunity since then to work with many leaders across a variety of industries and functions, and, though I have worked with leaders who were great communicators, I have to admit that they were in the minority. So why do leaders fail to effectively communicate to their employees? Let me give a few of my observations:
- They don’t think about it. The leader is focused on his or her core competency, and communicating with their employees is an afterthought.
- They don’t think that it is important. “What’s the big deal?” they think, “People will eventually find out what they need to know.”
- They make assumptions. One technology leader told me that he thought the average employee in his organization would have little interest in the strategic plan behind a new product launch. I convinced him to share (what he could) at a company-wide meeting, and he was overwhelmed by both the level of interest and the enthusiasm he received.
- They don’t care. Unfortunately, I have seen leaders that suffer from such egos that they care little for those in their organizations.
- They don’t know how. Communication does not come naturally to them, so they avoid it.
- They are afraid of conflict. Sometimes leaders need to communicate difficult messages that will draw responses that they don’t want to deal with, so they do nothing instead.
- They do communicate, but they fail to take the time to anticipate their audience and carefully craft their message, and communicate poorly as a result.
Technology today has allowed us to receive our information like never before. There is wider distribution, instantaneous access, and deeper levels of information available. Communication is not an easy task. Even in close, personal relationships, we forget to keep someone informed or communicate in a way that leads to misunderstanding. Communicating to larger audiences requires that much more careful thought.