Time to talk

Ok so here’s an insight for you. Drawn from my work inside twelve organisations in East Africa in the first seven months of this year. So it’s current and relevant. The number one barrier to productive company cultures is poor internal communication.

visual communication

I might go further and say that the problem is no internal communication. Not in the true sense of the word:  ‘the imparting or exchanging of information or news as means of connection between people or places.’ My observation is that very few business cultures place any value on internal conversations, so they deprioritise them. They seem to think it more important to talk to bosses, owners, shareholders, or financiers. And of course customers… although no one would contradict that priority.

But failing to address and professionalise internal conversations is a false economy of your time and effort. Here are some plaintive cries that symbolise a communications vacuum. Do you recognise any of these? Some readers will … because they are verbatim.

From the top: ‘Why don’t our employees act like owners, and take more responsibility?’

From the middle ‘We have instructed the staff, why do they still not comply?’

From the bottom: ‘ We have no brand direction, so what are we supposed to do?’Here are five things you can do this week to begin to make a difference. Try them; you’ll be surprised at the momentum they will begin to create

  1. Have a strategy. What do you want internal communications to do for your people and your company? What’s the current situation you want to address? What channels will you use? How will you know it is working?
  2. Use the right tools. Bill Gates says: “I’m a great believer that any tool that enhances communication has profound effects in terms of how people can learn from each other.” Your team is busy, so the last thing they need is an internal communications system that’s bothersome and full of friction. Fortunately software exists to make it simple and painless. Considercompany chat software like Slack, Yammer or HipChat, using cloud technology such as Google Drive, and mandating one platform for all your email, calendars and documents.
  3. Be visual. There are too many words around already. And as most of them are in emails, I think they are widely viewed as innately negative. A commonly cited statistic says 65% of people are visual learners. Even for the remaining 35%, it’s hard to deny that visuals are a powerful tool. That’s why great advertising combines striking imagery with succinct copy. As Kim Garst of Boom Social says: “Visuals express ideas in a snackable manner.” But make sure you produce internal communications well. Staff members are as sharp eyed as any other audience audience and they will see cheap, hurried materials as a sign that you don’t really care. Indeed only last month I had to correct someone for her observation that: ‘ this poster is only for staff.’
  4. Make it entertaining. “Fun is at the core of the way I like to do business, and it has been key to everything I’ve done from the outset” is how Sir Richard Branson explains his approach. Recent surveys show that 88% of Millennials want to work in a “fun and social work environment.” Work can be fun and productive, and so should internal communications.
  5. Provide channels for feedback.Did you know that “feedback” is the shortest word in the English language containing the letters a-b-c-d-e-f? Not withstanding this interesting fact, encouraging staff feedback is vital to any company’s survival and success. Some of the feedback may be tough to swallow at the beginning. But if you persist, the tendency to vent will give way to urge the urge to contribute more positively – believe me.

And what’s the value of a thought or idea if it’s never expressed?


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