“…because they understood that most of what was said, didn’t matter, and most of what mattered, couldn’t be said.”
I heard this, or something very similar, in a drama that I caught quite by chance on radio 4. I found myself listening to episode 4 from a serial I hadn’t listened to before of a book I had never heard of, called “Beyond the Beautiful Forevers” about “….Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum” and this sentence really caught my attention.
It struck a chord because writing about corporate culture and leadership behaviours recently in the wake of the Libor rate fixing scandal has driven home how little it matters what management say if their behaviours don’t reinforce their words.
The same theme was touched upon in a recent webinar I attended on Authentic Communication Strategies given by David Grossman of www.yourthoughtpartner.com. Grossman was talking about a leader’s responsibility to create a line of sight between the corporate vision (strategy / goals) and their employees’ activities because “…a corporate vision is only a vision until someone acts upon it”.
The problem for corporate communicators these days is that, every day, every one of us is bombarded with new and exciting ways to receive information. On the whole, the best examples are occurring outside of work and setting a high benchmark of expectation and need in terms of capturing attention.
The astonishing growth of highly visual media and solutions such as Pinterest and infographics and the growing ascendancy of Twitter reveal a growing desire for instant gratification. Our audiences’ attention span has shrunk, but not just because everyone is becoming used to getting the message in snapshot form, but also because at work there are so many programmes, initiatives, deadlines competing for attention. Attracting our audiences’ attention might be achieved through the judicious use of smart new media, but motivating people to get involved, take action, change their behaviours requires managers at all levels to lead by example and, more specifically, for line managers to clarify the “what this means for us” piece.
This dependency on line managers’ role in the communication / engagement chain was highlighted in the recently released report from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills on “Leadership & Management in the UK – The Key to Sustainable Growth”. In the chapter on “The consequences of poor leadership and management” the report highlights research by the CMI showing that: “….ineffective management could be costing UK businesses over £19 billion a year in lost working hours.” It goes on to say: “The study of 2000 employees across the UK reveals that 75% of workers waste up to two hours out of their working week due to inefficient managers. Worst management practices responsible for time lost include unclear communication (33 per cent); lack of support (33 per cent); micro-management (26 per cent); and lack of direction (25 per cent).
In Grossman’s webinar he made the point that “…employees are bombarded with information….but starved for connection and meaning”.
The ability to make these connections has to start at the top in order to enable it to percolate down. It’s a real skill that requires training, personal commitment and on-going support from the corporate comms function for it to be effective.