The Communications Myth

Living in the 21st Century is truly remarkable, is not it? We live in a world of instant communications where everything we need to know is right at our fingertips. The moment anything of significance occurs it is immediately transferred around the globe making us the most well informed generation in the history of the world.

Why is it then that communications is such a problem in the modern workplace? Why do so many employees believe that key decisions of upper management, or even their immediate management are not being communicated to them?

Do not believe me? Then go out and ask the rank and file in your company about the companies' direction; the department's goals and objectives; the companies newest marketing campaign; or the reason behind the recent decision to implement new systems.

Most employees do not know these answers because the communications is just not reaching them.

The reality is that communications comes in two parts. First, there is what the speaker or author sends, and then there is the message that is received. If what was sent is not the same as what was received, there is a communications error. Even worse is when the sender believes something is being sent, but nothing is received. Without a feedback loop the sender often assumes that the message has been received and understood when it truly has not.

The assumption that because a message has been sent that it must have been received is the source of a lot of frustration in the workplace today. In an effort to ensure that their communications are received, companies are sending out communications at an ever-increasing pace. Company directives, employee newsletters, status reports on dozens of pending projects, letters from the CEO that are sent and then forwarded and re-forwarded by various levels of management, departmental bulletin boards, company news flashes and so on lead to the illusion of communication. But since the employees do not receive or value the communications, they are not being received. And while I admire the efforts to transmit information and knowledge through the company no one should ever confuse the quality of information being transmitted with quantity. And that means that you should never assume that because something has been placed into an email, or newsletter that it has been communicated and understood.

In the fast paced work environment of today, employees are overwhelmed with deadline, projects, and an ever-growing pile of unread email. Employees are not ignoring these communications intentionally, but rather they are overwhelmed with pressing assignments. In addition, they believe that the value of these communications is limited due to the absence of any reasonable way to direct their questions and concerns back tot eh sender. Written communications, whether they be in emails, printed newsletters, posters, or even personalized letters can never be a substitute for the depth of understanding and commitment that comes with interactive, face to face discussions.

Clearly it is not possible for the CEO, the Vice Presidents, or even the Directors to meet each person one at a time to discuss issues with them, but in this age of communications, there is no excuse for not using interactive video or audio to communicate on a regular basis.
If you want to reach your employees and make sure that your message is being received, then do not rely on contrived communications vehicles like newsletters, or mass communications like email. Instead, invest in your employees by direct communications. And do it at all levels of the company. Remember, sending a message that is not being received is of no more value than a message never sent in the first place.