If you read the job description of an advertisement placed for the post of a CEO or a senior leader, it will certainly contain a phrase something like this: “The candidate must be a strong and skilled ‘communicator’.” Note it does not say “strong and skilled ‘talker’,” because the definition of a communicator is very different that of a talker.
Communication is core to leading. It is a cornerstone of a leader’s legacy. When you accept a role of a leader, you implicitly agree to be a communicator for the organisation. This accountability comes in hand in hand with the authority of the job. It is not a responsibility to which you can opt in or pot out.
Think about it … how do the best leaders motivate and inspire their people? Through clear communication. How do the best organisations promote discipline, accountability and strategic alignment? With clear communication. And, how do market leaders sell their products and services? With compelling ads and marketing campaigns — in sum, by clear communication. The point itself is crystal clear: In business leadership, you preach communication, communication, communication.
An overriding objective of any communication programme should be to effect a behaviour change. The desired change might be an attitudinal change or it may be a significant change in work processes to support a major shift in organisational direction.Effective leaders communicate strategically, translating important business objectives into terms through which subordinates readily understand ‘what’s in it for me?’ In response, subordinates align their actions accordingly and work towards propelling an organisation to success. All too often, communication programmes fail in that they do not tell employees what the ‘subordinates want and need to know’.
Dynamic organisations acknowledge the significant value that effective communication can deliver, especially in the climate of persistent change. Communication is no longer considered to be the ‘soft stuff’ but is seen to deliver tangible results. Improvement in customer satisfaction, service delivery and product quality, increased employee satisfaction and retention of key talent are just some of the areas in which effective communication will impact the bottom line. Poor communication is repeatedly cited as a key contributor in the failure of major change efforts.
To have impact, careful communication planning and management and clarity and consistency of messages are key factors. Unfortunately, many communication efforts focus only on the delivery of a message and neglect the vital planning and management of the process. The speed and volume offered by technology through such channels as email and intranet are often erroneously equated to effective communication.
In developing a strategy for any communication programme, the leader should (a) analyse each stakeholder and the impact of the change for them; (b) determine measurable communication objectives; (c) develop a clear, consistent message that is meaningful to the stakeholder; (d) select and use appropriate communication channels; (e) measure the effectiveness of the communication effort and adjust the strategy as necessary.
It is only at this point, in the leader’s tactical role as communicator, that message delivery becomes important. The leader may utilize a range of fundamental communication skills such as: presentation skills, asking effective questions, listening skills, facilitation and problem solving, conducting high impact conversations and coaching and mentoring skills (one-on-one communication).
Components of each of the roles will be required in mixed degrees to effectively manage the communication challenges of different situations. The leader must understand these roles and determine the degree of attention that the current communication programme demands from each role.
There’s no mystery here. Regardless of whether you’re talking about business, politics, sports or the military, the best leaders are firstrate communicators. Their values are clear and solid and what they say promotes those values. Their teams admire them and follow their lead. Likewise, if you want your organisation to reach new benchmarks of achievement, you must master the art of clear communication. So, how do you do it?
First, you must realize and accept that clear communication is always a two-way process. It’s not enough to speak clearly; you have to make sure you’re being heard and understood. To facilitate this, use the following two-way communicationPrepare how you’ll communicate - Clarify the goal of the communication. Plan carefully before sending it or meeting in person. Anticipate the receiver’s viewpoint and feelings.
Deliver the message - Express your meaning with conviction. Relate the message to your larger goals. Identify the action to be taken. Be sure the other person understands.Insist on the feedback - Keep an open mind. Identify key points in the feedback. Value constructive feedback and use it to grow. Confirm back your understanding.
Take corrective action as necessary
Primers, of course, aren’t enough. You must go deeper and determine why internal communications are poor or ineffective, considering any potential barriers. Once the barriers have been identified, you’ll see where to improve. Additionally, you’ll inevitably realize the stakes are high when it comes to communicating — if you fail to do this properly, you can poison the atmosphere between you and a colleague, as well as your company’s morale.
So, the next time you’re drafting a letter, e-mail or policy statement, before you send it, stop and consider these common barriers to clear communication: Lack of respect by either party for the other. Poorly defined purpose for the communication. Failure to establish the best medium for the communication (e-mail and cell phones are NOT the best ways to communicate serious material). Assumption that the list
ener receives the message. Ignored emotions or sensitivities. Failure to get on the listener’s level of understanding. Intimidation by either party.
Once you’ve determined what’s preventing clear communication at your organisation, dig even deeper, asking key questions that relate to your business’ health such as: How do you produce strategic alignment inside your company? How do you get your team to actively buy into your business goals? How do you ensure that everyone understands and upholds your company’s mission and values? Again, for each of these issues, the answer lies in clear communication.
Write it down!
In this high-tech, fast-paced world, it’s easy to overlook the value of writing down thoughts, intentions and even visions. Doing so, however, is a basic business strategy that enables clarity and purpose. What’s more, the process of writing a business plan can be more important than the actual document.
One great way to see just how effective writing it down can be is to always have three updated, clearly drafted documents: a mission statement, a values statement and a business plan. In fact, the document-drafting process naturally produces common understanding, consensus, alignment and buy-in. It also promotes clear communication within your management team while empowering your people and grooming them for future leadership.
Why is this so crucial to a business’ success? Mission statements define who you are and where you’re going. Value statements are your compass, the needle keeping you firmly on course. And your business plan is the rudder steering your ship.
Bottom line, clear communication is the most important key to a business leader’s success. So to grow as a leader and manager, you must learn how to be an effective, compelling communicator. And if you want your company to succeed, you and your team have to master the art of clear communication together, as well.
(Lionel Wijesiri, a corporate director with over 25 years’senior managerial experience, can be contacted at email@example.com)