My favorite quotation by George Bernard Shaw is "the single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that has taken place." Imagine playing a sports game, such as soccer or basketball, without any goal posts. Where would your team focus their efforts? How would you know if your game plan is producing the desired results? Business is a numbers game.
Organizational goals, and the performance improvements required to achieve those goals are expressed as numerical measures. It's the only way that the organization knows what to focus on, and if it's making progress in the right direction. But too often performance measurement seems to be lacking when it comes to workplace communication.
Intuitively leaders know that they need to invest in communicating with their people, and that those investments will ultimately drive value in the organization. But when it comes to setting workplace communication measures, to ascertain how and if their communication efforts are achieving the desired return on investment many leaders find themselves at a loss.
The biggest stumbling block seems to be "what do I measure?" As Margaret Wheatley says in her seminal work "Leadership and the New Signs," you can see how much I love this book, just full of post-it notes. But as she says in her book many leaders want their employees to focus their efforts on those things that will contribute to high performance. Such as team work, commitment, accountability, collaboration, and innovation. The challenge is that such behaviors are never produced by measurement. I believe that they are produced by workplace communication that enables those desired behaviors in three ways.
The first is workplace communication that enables those desired behaviors by fostering connections between employees and the organization; by giving greater meaning and relevance to the work that employees are being asked to do.
Building meaning and relevance is the job of workplace communication. Second, communication enables those desired performance behaviors, by helping to develop a shared understanding of what people, what employees and leaders can achieve together. Fostering shared understanding is the job of workplace communication.
Thirdly, workplace communication enables those desired performance behaviors by enabling the employees to contribute to delivering on the organizations overarching purpose through shared beliefs and aligned behaviors.
Achieving constancy of purpose is the job of communication. Each of those desired behaviors, commitment, teamwork, accountability, innovation, and collaboration is a choice that employees make. Moreover it's a choice that engaged employees make. Depending on how connected they feel to the organization or their team, through shared understanding and clarity of purpose, those employees choose to focus their efforts, to work together, to be responsible, to innovate and to collaborate, and to explore new ways of doing things.
Here's my tactic for how to measure workplace communication. I found it really helpful to establish performance measures that target the workplace communication barriers, impeding those desired performance capabilities. To do that I identify "well, what's standing in the way of employees feeling connected to each other and to the organization? What's preventing a shared understanding of what can be achieved together? What's stopping employees from delivering on the organization's overarching purpose?" Then I set workplace communication measures to address the barriers I've identified. It's that simple.
Use workplace communication measures to focus on and address underlying issues adversely impacting the performance of your organization. Not having workplace communication measures to address underlying issues is like not having measures to address underlying medical problems. Achieving improvements in a patient's heart condition, for example, is difficult, if the performance measures relate just to the heart condition and not to the underlying issues. To fix an ailing heart a skilled doctor establishes performance measures that relates to things like levels of cholesterol or blood pressure, that may be adversely impacting the health of the heart. To fix an ailing organization a skilled leader focuses on measures relating to workplace communication issues that are adversely affecting the performance of the organization, such as levels of employee connected-ness, shared understanding, or clarity of purpose.
I view workplace communication as a business process vital to success that needs to be subjected to the same rigor as any other core business process. Well, that's my tactic for this Tuesday. Establish workplace communication measures for the barriers standing in the way of high performance behavior capabilities. What do you think? Should more rigor be applied to workplace communication measures in order to ascertain the return of investment of all that time and money spent communicating? I look forward to seeing you 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.