The importance of internal communication
“I suppose we should have spent more time discussing this within the organization and building the internal conviction for the product.”
We were speaking with the senior management of a company recently when they mentioned that a recent change to their product line hadn’t worked as they had envisioned. Rather than capturing a greater market share of the industry segment, the introduction of the new product had led to confusion among the existing customer base and eroded the competitive position of the company. Worse, a number of high performing sales people had defected to other companies in the ensuing period.
Upon digging into the issue further, it became evident that the sales team had not been convinced about the new product enhancement and how it fit in the brand portfolio. The lack of conviction felt by the sales team had translated into a lukewarm reaction from the customer base.
So, was the product conceived in haste? Had the decision to develop and launch a product been made without due consumer research? Were corners cut in the rush to innovate? The management was adamant that due process had been followed in the conceptualization and development of the product. They were convinced that the product was superior to others in the market.
But where the system had fallen apart was in the internal communication. It was assumed that the salesforce would follow the directive of the head office, take their cues from the marketing teams efforts and passionately pound the pavement to promote the benefits of the new product to the end consumer.
Not surprisingly, that didn’t happen.
Internal communications cannot be an after-thought
Organizations spend millions of dollars on advertising and media budgets to establish their brands, create awareness of products and boost sales. Unfortunately, most of them don’t make the necessary investments in time, effort and internal infrastructure to ensure strong communication within the company.
It is often presumed that employees understand the strategic goals of the organization. As a result, management may not invest the time in engaging with them toexplainthe goals and ensure alignment with the company’s vision. If you were to ask everyone within your company to articulate the mission of the organization, would you receivea consistent set of responses? Does everyone understand the long-term priorities of the company? And do they feel that their own goals are aligned with those of the organization’s? In other words, is everyone steering in the same direction?
Besides cascading goals down through the organization, it is imperative that employees in different functions understand how their roles fit into the overall picture.For instance, does a sales representative in a semi-urban center understand the brand priorities and his/herspecific role towards achieving them? Does a manager in the supply chain function understand the operational priorities for the year and what s/he can do to help achieve efficiencies in certain areas? And does the HR supervisor in a local branch understand the talent development requirements for the company and his/her role in bridging any existing gap?
Understanding how their roles fit into the overall priorities of the organization enhancesemployee engagement and productivity levels. It also creates a constructive dynamic that works towards the common purpose of the organization.
Listen, ask questions and then listen some more
Communication is a two-way street and the most effective leaders know the importance of active listening. They leverage insights across the organization in their decision-making process and share the rationale for those decisions in order to maximize buy-in for them. SeaLink Capital Partners (SCP) has proprietary tools like the Organization Performance Survey (OPS) which enable organizations to source inputs from employees, analyze trends based on internal feedback and take appropriate measures. SCP has worked with multiple organizations to run the OPS internally and the insights that come from the survey are much deeper than what any external consultant can provide. Perhaps, if the senior management referred to at the start of this article had ensured that inputs from the sales team were included in the development stage of the new product and that the value proposition was articulated based on their insights, the sales force would have felt much more vested in the success of the product.
As a leader, you set the tone within the organization
Remember that as a leader, your words and actions are amplified within the organization and set an example for others to follow. Are you seen as someone who genuinely practices meritocracy and welcomes robust debates and discussions? Or are you viewed as a person who makes decisions while seated in an ivory tower? Are those that disagree with the majority point of view given a chance to express them, and are contradictory positions carefully considered? Is dissent allowed, and even encouraged? Or is your closest coterie of advisors filled with yes-men.
If communication from the leaders is seen as transparent and trustworthy, that has a strong impact on the culture of the organization. Communication at all levels is more likely to be open, and establish a strong culture of information sharing. SCP actively works with senior leaders at portfolio companies to ensure that there is strategic alignment on key priorities within the firm.
Don’t shoot the messenger
There will be times when the best-laid plans do not produce the desired market results. At times like those do you look for a scapegoat and shoot the messenger, or do you take ownership of the situation yourself? If there is fear within the company of consequences to highlighting issues, you may find yourself blissfully unaware of festering problems, which could have been addressed at the start.
Trust and credibility within an organization is built when leadership takes a problem solving approach to issues rather than a finger pointing one.
Nip rumors in the bud
In a world where “fake news” is becoming increasingly common, open and frequent communication across the organization is the most effective way of quelling rumors and maintaining engagement and productivity levels.
A vacuum created by the lack of formal communication, particularly during periods of internal or external uncertainty, will be quickly filled through the grapevine. And it is very likely that information from the grapevine will contain errors and personal biases,which can lead to a lack of clarity and a trust gap within the organization. Ensuring strong communication from the leadership is even more crucial in times of volatility.
Know when to adjust your communication style
Have you seen the movie, “Twelve Angry Men?” It’s a story of jury members deliberating the fate of a man accused of murdering his own father with much of the evidence stacked against him. Eleven jurors are ready to send him to the gallows. But one of the jurors, brilliantly portrayed by Henry Fonda, believes that there is reasonable doubt to exonerate the man. As the sole standoff within the jury, he proceeds to influence the others to change their votes. Some are convinced by pure logic while others are swayed by emotional arguments.It is an interesting example of how communication styles influence different people.
As a leader within an organization, there will be occasions when you need to tailor your communication style based on the urgency and the nature of the issue as well as the audience. What doesn’t and shouldn’t change howeverare the integrity, frequency and transparency with which you communicate.
It is a process, not a one-time event
Internal communications is not a one-time “check the box” kind of event. It is a continuous process, which has to done with authenticity to build credibility. SCP works closely with HR firms who help build strong processes that enable smoother internal communications. Over the long run, companies that invest the time and effort into a strong internal communications process will tend to have a highly engaged and collaborative workforce.
And that is a significant competitive advantage in any industry.