El País, July 23, 2010
According to Peter Drucker, 60% of a company’s problems are a consequence of communication issues. If we add to this the “organizations’ pathologies” described by Javier Fernández Aguado, we can easily conclude that communication therapies are really useful for these diseases. In a way, companies are like people: they think, feel, make illusions, grow, get sick and, if they are not cured, they die. Having problems is not a bad thing —who doesn’t?—, but failing to solve them is.
Such a peculiar checkup of companies obliges us to start with internal communication which, following the comparison with human beings, is the intimacy of institutions. With internal communication, organizations either energize or infest their internal environment, their corporate soul. Neglecting the inside, failing to care for internal communication, may cause an infection that can generate new diseases and aggravate others already in process. In addition, early detection increases the effectiveness of the therapy. Bearing in mind the premise that communication begins with listening and calls for open-mindedness, some of the lines of thought and action that I have devised may come in handy for the treatment of these diseases: the PePa Principle [primero las personas, después los papeles (first people, then roles)], the 80/20 proportion of listening/talking for an efficient management of perceptions, the 9 key words (say what you do and do what you say), the 3C formula (communication + coherence = confidence) and the oxygenating reference of rectifying (make always new mistakes).
Paradox: some companies sacrifice truth to preserve goodness. Thus, they hide or disguise some information from their employees with the commendable aim of avoiding discouraging them with facts and data that disagree with the official message, they manifest executive incompetence, and they show a management immaturity and a sensitivity shortsightedness. This communication pathology implies acting as if the ends justified the means, even though this is denied with words. Remaining silent or denying only works in the short term, at best.
Leaders of the past knew how to speak, while future leaders support their eloquence with sympathetic listening, which calls for a great deal of passion for people and commitment with reality. This attitude produces healing effects forthwith for the team (motivation because they know their feelings are listened to and, probably, understood), for the organization (detection of problems that may otherwise go unnoticed and would not be solved) and for the leader (growing and contagious internal prestige).
Certain executives wonder what to do to prevent their people from thinking they are incoherent, unfair, incompetent… To begin with, they could stop being so. It is thus expressed and exemplified in the television series The West Wing. The best communication does not fix the worst reality, although it can modify its perception. This option to manipulate, as old as the humankind, is a tempting possibility, very efficient in mediocre, inbred, self-satisfying environments. As it is apparent, almost no one recognizes these tumors in their organization.
In the colloquium, after a session in Barcelona, I was asked how to communicate an imminent Employment Regulation File (ERE, per its acronym in Spanish) in a company. At the beginning, we wouldn’t have thought that the final urgency would determine our times because, in communication, the clock is as important as the compass. Sensitivity is also important. In addition, unlike the advice given by the Traffic Department, here, arriving is not important, arriving on time is. The severity of a delay almost always leaves traces and, on occasions, it turns out to be progressively lethal. This is about practising what we may call preventive communication.
The use of the turning light when driving is an illustrative example: its efficacy lies in the anticipation with which it is activated. Why do surprises in organizations have to be negative? Why do we always have to use full-beam headlamps to shine blindingly? As insinuating as an intermittent light can be! Being able to foresee the foreseeable and to tell what can be told helps changing towards the right executive communication, while it facilitates at the same time the transition from KO to OK in crises. In the case of ERE, if you didn’t put preventive communication into practice on time, now it’s time to gather your people and, looking them into the eyes, apologize. That genuine communicative action does not change the past but does change the future.
Just as the mere company of people does not necessarily mitigate loneliness, we may also end up deprived of communication due to a saturation of information. Sending messages, editing newsletters, creating mailboxes, convening meetings and participating in all social networks may turn out to be infertile if these tools fail to communicate what people want to know, need to know and must know. It is like offering a pharmaceutical service with absolutely all drugs for all diseases, but lacking the advice of an expert to provide me with a prescription of only one drug. Which one? The one I need to cure my condition.
If internal communication is like intimacy in organizations, communicating first to employees contributes to a more authentic public image.