This weeks Tactics Tuesday asks the question: Are communication tactics without a strategy just the noise before defeat?
Employees aren't lacking information today. They're virtually drowning in it. The challenge is that employee understanding, which is a precursor to high performance, doesn't just happen as a result of receiving information. Information is useless unless we understand what it means, and employees are starving for meaning.
The 2012 McKinsey article, entitled "How Leaders Kill Meaning At Work" by authors Amabile and Kramer, sheds light on this. The authors' multi-year research program found that of all the events most critical to fully engaging employees in their jobs, the first and fundamental requirement is that the work be meaningful to the people doing it. The authors' research findings show that managers at all levels routinely and unwittingly undermine the meaningfulness of work for their direct reports through their everyday words and actions.
In a fast paced, highly competitive environment, one of the things that can fall by the wayside is internal strategic communication, in other words communication that is purposeful, planned, and responsive. When there are organizational fires to be fought on a daily basis, it's very easy to slip into a tactical communication mode, a mode that is unfocused, erratic, and reactive. Slipping into a tactical communication mode means ending up on the treadmill. Being on the treadmill means running faster just to stay in the same place. It consumes time, energy, and focus, but the organization doesn't move forward. Running fast just to stay in the same place is fine for training purposes. It's highly ineffective if the organization wishes to achieve a desired destination or outcome.
Tactical communication diverts critical resources away from key organizational priorities, and it leaves the organization no further along from where it started. Being on the tactical treadmill means taking an output based approach to communication, where the organization addresses only the communication symptoms and doesn't address underlying causes.
Organizations on the tactical treadmill could well heed the words of an ancient Chinese military General called Sung Tzu. Sung Tzu is the author of the book "The Art Of War," and in that book he states: "Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat." His maxim for winning battles applies in an organizational context as much as it does in a military environment. In today's competitively charged war for productive employees, profitable customers, and prosperous shareholders, those organizations where there's strategy but no tactics take the slowest route to victory, and those without tactics but no strategy face the noise before defeat.
Sung Tzu's words are applicable to internal communications too. An internal communication strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Communication tactics without a strategy is the noise before defeat.
How common is defeat? Well, according to many, many research findings, some 70% of organizational change initiatives failed to realize the intended benefits or the desired outcomes.
Taking a strategic approach to internal communication means getting off the tactical treadmill and onto the strategic super highway, where the organization works with 100% of the organization's communication systems to address underlying causes. But three obstacles stand in the way of getting off the tactical treadmill and onto the strategic super highway.
The first of those is time. It takes time to develop a well-crafted internal communication strategy, and being on the tactical treadmill leaves no spare time in an already action packed day. The second obstacle is stakeholder support. A full scale internal communication strategy is often a lengthy document, and stakeholders, whose support is critical to effectively implementing the internal communication strategy, often don't have the time nor the inclination to work through the whole of the document. And the third obstacle is currency. Internal communication strategy can quickly become out of date when the organization's dynamics change in response to an internal or external trigger.
I've faced those obstacles so many times throughout my almost 30 year career, and as a result, I've developed a one-page internal strategic communication roadmap to address those three issues.
So my tactic for this Tuesday echoes the words of Sung Tzu. An internal communications strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy are the noise before defeat.
What do you think? Does getting stuck on the tactical treadmill and reacting in a knee jerk fashion to the organization's communications issues stifle the organization's ability to execute on its business strategy?
Well, I look forward to seeing you again next time. Until then, happy communicating.
Lorri Lennon is an award-winning advisor, trainer and author in leadership communication. She has 20 years’ experience managing communications for large global organisations.
Lorri conducts master classes to help participants maximise their communications ROI.
Mariska Mannes is an experienced communication consultant. She holds a Master of Management majoring in Communication, which allows her to bring a blend of qualification and practical experiences to her training programmes. Her expertise is in business and cross cultural communication and behaviour. For more information visit Mariska's LinkedIn profile.