A couple of months ago I was chatting to a senior leader, who was telling me how he'd managed to change his company culture.
"You must have communicated well!" I told him admiringly.
"Oh no," he replied. "This wasn't about comms. This was about getting people engaged with ideas and projects, and getting them to feel they can really influence the decisions taken at the top."
I smiled. To me, this all boils down to one thing – communication.
We tend to think of "communication" as being about briefings and presentations. But it's much deeper than that; it's about pretty much everything we do. It's our ability to engage, influence, coach, be authentic...
Everything this leader talked about came under the umbrella of communication.
Because communication manifests in so many different ways, it can be difficult to identify when bad communication is causing problems.
But there are lots of signs. Take, for example, the employee survey.
There are a whole slew of questions that can reveal communication issues – if you just read between the lines.
For example, if the survey reveals high levels of dissatisfaction with the company leadership or a lack of trust, it can indicate poor communication.
Look, as well, for evidence that people aren't motivated to challenge themselves or the status quo. For example, they might be saying things like, "I'm not encouraged to come up with new ideas or ways of doing things" or "I feel my opinion doesn't matter" or "I don't have any influence".
Other comments might concern a lack of clarity around the direction the company's taking, or doubts about whether senior managers visibly demonstrate commitment to the values of your organisation.
All these are fundamentally about communication.
Why is this so important to diagnose correctly?
First, because if you deal with lots of different symptoms instead of pinning down one central problem, you are overcomplicating the situation.
Following the employee survey, leaders might think they need to learn many different skills – how to share the company vision, how to increase innovation, how to build motivation...
But they really need to do just one thing – get better at communicating.
That is much simpler to understand and to deal with, both for the leaders themselves and for HR.
Second, dealing with the symptoms doesn't necessarily solve the core issue.
For example, I've sometimes been told by senior leaders that they are putting on more roadshows because their staff survey has shown they're not 'visible' enough.
There's no point in more roadshows, though, if these leaders don't come across well once they're out there. Or if they put on a roadshow that doesn't cover what really matters to people.
Get the fundamentals of communication right, though, and everything else falls into place.
If that is something you would like help with, contact CommsMasters and let's talk. In our programmes, we'll give your leaders a simple framework that will help them communicate effectively in any situation. That'll improve your employee survey scores too!