A communication culture fast-tracks change, growth and better outcomes. By focusing the business and leaders on communication, as a way of doing better business, organisations yield better results. Where organisations have succeeded in embedding communication in their culture they have better outcomes in safety, innovation, change, cultural alignment and of course employee engagement.
Where communication is not embedded, businesses rely on communication teams or communication osmosis to reinforce strategy and culture. The osmosis approach is unreliable as organisational commitment and leader capability to communicate always varies.
A lack of commitment to communicate costs a business more. Safety incidents, errors and customer dissatisfaction are clear examples resulting from misalignment with strategy, caused by poor communication or failure of leaders to listen.
Leaders and teams that prioritise communication deliver better outcomes. This makes sense, so why don’t all organisations adopt this approach across the board? Communication is not often seen as a priority because it is seen as part of “roll out”… put at the end of the line. I say communication leaders need to be at the table, from the start, as part of the decision-making process.
Working for an Australian business, striving for greater safety, productivity and customer satisfaction, I delivered a communication capability plan to boost leadership focus on communication and create a culture of communication in their operations.
They faced major public scrutiny and had to achieve significant adoption of change and automation to survive. They were fearful of public backlash, union protest and customer upset. All of which needed effective communication planning and competence beyond the responsibility of the comms team. Leader communication was the lynchpin of success in a highly unionised and remote workforce.
The approach placed communication leaders on steering groups and project teams. They were influential in decision making. This put us at the start of the process and embedded communication in the strategic decisions. We were at the table form the start.
We used data, evidence and influence to demonstrate the importance of communication in engaging stakeholders, building culture and delivering on the big outcomes. Communication was positioned as a key enabler of success, recognised as being able to enlist meaningful stakeholder engagement, not deliver traditional one way messaging. Leaders appreciated that communication was beneficial in advancing their goals.
By focusing the executive and middle management on effective communication, the outcomes were positive and sustainable: customer satisfaction increased, union resistance was minimised, and employee engagement increased. Employee engagement raised. A communication culture emerged in a newly automated business needing strong leader-employee relations.
“Leaders and teams that prioritise communication deliver better outcomes.”
In my experience, organisations that have made communication a part of their culture share some common traits. They see the importance of investment in communication capability as part of their overall strategy. This has come from the communication team influencing and demonstrating the importance of communication as an enabler of change and results.
The communication team role is obviously critical to driving a culture of communication. The positioning of the team sets the scene for change. Strong leadership in the team will likely see movement towards a communication culture with emphasis on better communication adoption and delivery.
Commitment and energy alone are not enough. The team needs to position itself as enablers of communication, not blockers or controllers. This requires an enabling mindset and strategy, effective positioning and team capability to enlist leader support.
Communicators need to gain a mandate to influence corporate decisions. The relationship and advisory role with executive team members is a fundamental ingredient to this change, as well as the correct focus within the communication team.
Communication teams need to demonstrate they are at least as adept at corporate planning and strategy implementation as other departments. If we can’t do this, then we risk always being at the end of the line, not at the table where we belong.
(Remember: if you don’t understand the business or leaders’ priorities, then you can’t advise them).
Biography: Paul Matthews
Paul Matthews has been building communication teams and helping businesses communicate for over 20 years.
Based in Australia, Paul helps leaders and business prioritise communication and build leader capability for better business outcomes.