Helping Organizations Overcome Common Challenges To Strategic Communication

Jim Ylisela of Ragan Communication points to the following secrets of global communication — the challenges that nearly all organizations share when it comes to the corporate communication function:

1. All organizations have initiatives that no one can comprehend. They have strategic pillars, three-legged stools, key drivers and abstract concepts that never quite sink in with employee audiences.

In the western world, these initiatives come about when executives hold an “off-site meeting,” which most employees associate with golf, lots of booze and expensive dinners at exotic resorts.

In South Africa, they do the same thing, but they call it a bosberaad, an Afrikaans term that describes bearded men going off to a wine farm, drinking themselves silly and deciding how to continue oppressing the masses “for their own good.” Sounds very familiar.

2. Their intranets blow. Nearly every organization has an intranet these days, and with a few noteworthy exceptions, they are poorly organized, difficult to navigate and stunningly boring.

“We can’t get anyone to go there, and no one can find anything when they do,” was the lament I heard from more than one conference-goer in London. Boy, if I had nickel for every time I’ve heard that one.

3. Their organizations are, dare I say it, “silo-ed.” Everyone gets caught up in their own work and their own departments, and nobody, but nobody, understands the big picture. This leads to confusion, wasted resources and, at times, people working at cross-purposes.

This is as true about communications as any other department. Despite all the good reasons to do so, internal and external communicators often never share information or tactics.

During a recent focus group with one of our clients, an engineer told me she didn’t realize she was working on the same project as a fellow employee until she talked to him—at home! They happen to be husband and wife.

That is some sexy pillow talk!

4. Executives are cut off. Employees want to hear from their leaders. They want to know the strategic direction of the company, but they also want to know that their ideas and suggestions are getting heard.

But the executives can’t seem to get out of their offices and just walk around. They never ask for ideas, only impose decisions. And then they wonder why people aren’t fired up about that goofy initiative.

5. Managers are even worse. They do talk with the employees who report to them, but not very well. They do a lousy job of communicating the big picture from the chiefs (if they even understand it themselves), and they do an even worse job of letting executives know how the rank-and-file thinks.

Most managers say they don’t have the time to communicate. What they really mean is that they don’t have time to sift through all the crap to find something meaningful (and believable) to share with their folks.

6. Organizations have way too much communication, poorly applied. Once upon a time, employees complained they didn’t get enough information and didn’t know what was going on. No longer. Now people scream about getting buried in information, most of it irrelevant.

They’re incensed by e-mail, have given up on the intranet and find nothing relevant in print.

So where do we go from here?

What’s the future role of 2-way communication — user-generated content instead of top-down corporate speak — in overcoming these common obstacles?

We want to hear from you.

In Category: Blog Topics, Workforce Engagement

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Dom Crincoli

Show 4 Comments
  • gilliant February 24, 2009, 8:45 pm Link

    I like your style. 😀

    But I’m not sure what you’re asking. Communication doesn’t equal information. (#6)

    Personally, I’d like to see everyone getting some communications training in their orientation. But that would suppose the organisation actually had orientation.

  • editor February 24, 2009, 9:07 pm Link

    Right. I agree–and I would add that the holy grail is targeted communication, specifically by generation, if possible. I find that the way Traditionalists and Baby Boomers want to receive communication and the way Milennials want to receive it is completely different. The collaborative, consensual model is not optional with the Milennials. They refuse to be spammed by our top-down corporate communication (and corporate-speak). They want to weigh and join in the conversation (consensus-driven decision making). Don’t you agree?

  • gilliant February 25, 2009, 8:56 pm Link

    I think that everyone likes to have their opinion taken into account and not be treated as faceless and insignificant. Witness the success (outside the US) of such management initiatives as Quality Circles.

    However, I think the difference between younger generations and older ones is that younger generations no longer have the trust in the hierarchy that was once omnipresent. Much of this has been due, IMO, to mixed messages such as saying, “we value your opinion” and then being unavailable, as you mention, (as well as plenty of other psycho-sociological factors).

    Too much information, as well as nebulous corporate speak, do not help to increase trust, but rather to dilute it. That is the crux of the matter, IMO.

    I’m intrigued by your reference to “consensus-driven decision-making”, and as internal coms is not my specialisation, I’d like to hear more on that.

  • editor February 27, 2009, 9:49 pm Link

    Consensus-driven decision-making. I’ve heard it explained this way: Google works by sending the organic searches that receive the most hits in their order of precedence. So… if there is a consensus that Twitter is the top organic search result for those who Google the search term “micro-blogging,” well then, Twitter, by consensus, must be the leader and best choice in micro-blogging. It extends to other areas of life as well, at least for millennials. Rather than “deferring to the expert,” as baby boomers were trained to do, millennials bow to the consensus of the masses. They won’t move forward until there is a consensus.