I can’t remember exactly where I heard it for the first time, but I do remember the general circumstances. There was a group of us seated around a table. Flipcharts covered the walls, and markers and half-used Post-it notepads littered the table. Our work had progressed nicely up until the last agenda item. Our task was to agree on a way to disseminate information on a recent decision. The conversation seemed to go around in circles. Someone took a deep breath, made eye contact with each of us and said, "Do you think it’s likely that we can develop any sort of communication plan by continuing to pool our ignorance about how this decision was made?" What a wonderful question. That’s exactly what we were doing, talking about something we had no real information about or insight into, and yet it took a courageous questioner to point us in the right direction. We adjourned the meeting and went out to do our homework. We couldn’t talk about a decision until we understood it. Asking How could we communicate management decisions more effectively? can save you from expending effort based on ignorance.
Wanting to provide helpful context for a management decision isn’t enough. You have to discover what communication format will send your message most effectively. Communication based on a one-size-fits-all philosophy is wrong more often than it is right. Communication delivered one time, in one way, will never satisfy people’s needs to understand. Asking this question will help you determine an effective communication strategy. Asking it over time and monitoring the changing answers will help you (and others in your organization) formulate communication strategies that really add value. Remember, from the customer’s perspective, an interaction with an employee is the basis upon which they judge the organization. Doesn’t it make sense to be sure that all employees– from janitors to senior vice presidents–know and understand what’s going on?
By the way, there is no excuse for not getting your internal communications right. In this day of instant, easy, and inexpensive communications technology, those organizations that don’t do a great job communicating with their teams and employees are, I would bet, experiencing higher than industry average turnover, lower than average morale, and increasing customer complaints. This might be a good time to review how creatively you’re using the communications technology you have and to develop some new strategies to get your key messages and decisions from one end of the organization to the other.