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Alan Garvey

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How to build a communication culture


Alan Garvey tells us why the most successful businesses are the ones that communicate well.

Communication is an oft-cited soft skill, yet it is also one that can be very elusive. Organisations that have powerful communication structures in place, however, have a stronger performance edge as a result. According to research by PMI’s Pulse of the Profession report: The Essential Role of Communications, organisations deemed 'effective communicators' are more than five times as likely to be high performers and achievers. The PMI Pulse report also revealed that 69% of high performing organisations realise the critical importance of communication to the success of their projects – compared with 58% of low performers who do not.

Other surveys show that job satisfaction and happiness at work are mostly achieved through the emotional connection employees experience while on the job, including how well the channels of communication function. Compared with the importance of camaraderie, a sense of progress and inclusion, salary and benefits play a minor role in workplace happiness.

Policy and practice

The 25% considered to be the highest-performing organisations know why they have established great levels of communication: to optimise their bottom line. How they go about establishing a communication culture is by planning an effective communication strategy. But before that can happen there has to be a clear intention on behalf of the company.

ESI instructor Jon Burton attributes truly successful communication to two things: will and skill.

“Most organisations concentrate their efforts on the essential skills of communication,” says Burton.“But willingness to communicate within the organisation – in other words, a genuine intention – is of greater importance. Allowing and encouraging communication to flow from the bottom up is essential if managers are to tune into and take advantage of useful feedback from those whose opinions, thoughts and ideas can make a real difference to the productivity and growth of a company.

“Company structure and culture invariably dictates the communication style of the organisation, and where the workforce is well-informed, fully engaged and on-board, that communication has an enviable sophistication.”

How to build a communication culture

To establish a successful communication culture, companies require a two-way communication flow, with managers communicating both up and down, senior executives communicating down and team members communicating up, down and across the entire enterprise. Gone are the days when leaders never leave their office, or get other people to do the thinking and communicating. Today’s leader is in the trenches with everyone else. They need to take responsibility for building a culture of communication and for developing new ways of communicating that are engaging and time-appropriate.

Managers must always be mindful that good communication is the life-blood of the business. It is a distinct part of what they do. It’s not merely an option; it is mission-critical and as important to the business as the report at the end of the month or the development of a new product. A company needs to survey its people to truly know whether the messages are reaching everyone, by walking around and talking to people on the ‘shop floor’ and asking if they know what the company’s key goals are etc.

This applies as much to the operatives and those on the shop floor as it does to managers. Individuals should be asking, what do I need to know? And be prepared to answer questions such as: Do you know why your job exists? Do you understand where you fit in? It is only by fully understanding the core values of the company that the workforce can begin to feel engaged with the company’s aims and objectives. Morale builds top performers. And it all comes down to having a structure that encourages good, open communication.

Strengthening a communication-friendly culture

Layers of management, where titles and responsibilities are the individual’s main concern, or a pyramid structure which sees communication flow in one, single direction – with no return – are not organisations likely to facilitate a good communication culture. A star structure however, such as Richard Branson advocates, sees him surrounded with talented people who are naturally good communicators. The ‘stars’ thrive on communication like oxygen. This creates a whole company based on good communication – and it brings us full circle to will and skill.

Not everyone is a born communicator, but with the right training they can learn to be. If sound communication is enshrined in the company’s values, then there is a conscious will to make communication work, and it is more likely to happen. All companies communicate because they have to. But how well they do it is another matter altogether.

Alan Garvey, Managing Director, EMEA and Asia, ESI International, leads a regional team of professionals who are responsible for all aspects of ESI learning programme development and delivery.


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