I have a one-year-old. He is a great communicator. He screams in my face when he is hungry or tired and I promptly do whatever it takes to make him stop. Effective communication is one of the first things we learn to do as humans. Yet, as business leaders, with some of the most advanced degrees and greatest minds and innovators in our ranks, we time and time again see ineffective communication causing some of the biggest problems in our companies and are left asking, “why is communication so hard?”
So why IS communication so hard? Let’s face it. Basic communication is not difficult. My toddler has not said a single word in his life, but when he is hungry and mad about it, I know. He yells, he cries, I feed him, and once he’s happy, we move on.
But most businesses aren’t set up to let this kind of free flow of information happen. Instead, logistical and political roadblocks creep in and stop communication dead in its tracks.
First, the logistical roadblocks. These roadblocks involve the realities of business that complicate the flow of information across the enterprise. Unlike a single toddler, there is not one person to communicate with, there are dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people across many departments and geographic locations. There is also not just one message to give. Businesses, especially ones that are growing and changing rapidly, are constantly churning out new information and new or updated strategies on every level.
Then, there are the political roadblocks. The political roadblocks go something like this: “I can’t tell my boss what is happening in my department or there will be blowback.” “I can’t be critical of my boss or I won’t get a raise.” “If I question our goals and strategy, people will think I’m not a team player.” “I’ve seen this happen 1,000 times before, why even bother telling them it’s going to blow up in our face again?”
And there you have it. That’s how communication, which my one-year-old is so good at, is keeping your brilliant team from having clear direction, working strategically toward a common goal, knowing how appreciated they are, or understanding when they’ve made a big mistake. It’s what’s keeping your good company from becoming a great one.
So what do you do about it? Well, there is no silver bullet here. You have to take the time, make the effort, repeat important things, and then do it again, and again, and again. You have to have the hard conversations and insist that others do the same. You have to be able to (figuratively) scream like my toddler when something is going wrong: “look here, this is a problem!”
Communication isn’t sexy. It’s not product innovation. It’s not churning out widgets you can sell to increase revenue. In fact, you’re taking time away from all of those things to do it. But, it may just be the thing that is keeping your good company from being a great one. And, the good news is, it really isn’t that hard.
Katie Treadway is the Head of Regulatory Affairs at One Energy.