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TED TALK: Sarah Magill: Opening New Organizational Communication Loops
Organizations communicate in two directions: internally to staff and externally to clients, customers, shareholders, stakeholders, the media. Faulty internal communications can lead to mistakes, discouraged and unhappy staff, employees leaving the company. Poor external communications can jeopardize image and sales. It really is that simple. Any overall management strategy needs a communications plan or the whole operation might fail.
A communications audit analyzes an organization’s practices to reveal how effective they are—throughout a whole company or in specified parts of the organization. It can pinpoint problem areas such as frequent misunderstandings, information blocks, information lacks, information duplication, misrepresentation. An audit could be part of a periodic health check but it is especially helpful at a time of change: a merger or acquisition, launch of a new product or service, entry into new markets, for example.
The exact nature of the audit will depend on the type of organization and its particular needs and problems. But it will certainly aim to identify target audiences: the external audience will have different needs from an internal one. It will need to identify the key messages that need to be communicated and the channels that exist for conveying them. It will look not only at the communications that the organization makes but also how it receives them.
But what might be going wrong, with external communications, say? Let me give an example here. My husband is a shareholder in a building company. Every year it produces a glossy Annual Report that it sends to shareholders. The report is extremely detailed and full of lavish photographs. It clearly costs a lot to produce and distribute. This makes my husband very angry. He doesn’t want to read the full report and resents the money that is wasted on producing and sending a document that goes straight in the bin. What he would like is a leaflet summarizing the salient points about the company’s performance and changes. Does the company realize that some shareholders feel this way? It is important to bear in mind that most shareholders are not able to attend shareholder meetings and may not know how to make their views known. This company has a two-way problem. The communications it sends out are wrong for some shareholders but it has not thought about a way of creating a channel for the shareholders to give their feedback. It is thus breaking a fundamental rule of effective communications: you must have feedback.
Or take an internal issue. The HR department of a company gives out a detailed instruction manual to new employees. Yet many of the newly hired people seem completely lost during their first weeks. Why might this be? Well, in the first place, the employees are mostly involved in manual work. They are not used to reading chunks of written material. Most of the manuals lie unopened in their lockers. A buddy scheme of some kind would probably be a much better way of easing the new people through the first weeks.
Another example comes from a small company in which everybody was under pressure to meet deadlines. The director of the company made a habit of telephoning staff for briefings at lunchtime because he knew they ‘weren’t busy’ then. But that was the point. They were having lunch. The amount of resentment he caused by this policy of disturbing people during the precious few minutes they had to relax was enormous.
Communicating is a complex process with potential pitfalls at each stage. Is the message clear? Is the medium for transmitting it appropriate? Has the recipient actually received it? If so, has it been understood? Has it had the desired effect? Does the recipient have a channel for feedback? Can the recipient understand how to provide the feedback? The old metaphor of the Chinese whisper holds true. You thought you said one thing but when you check you find that a totally different message was actually received.
The audit is a systematic approach that forces an organization to look at what it is really doing as opposed to what it believes it is doing. The audit will look at the people who send and receive messages; the means of communicating—which extend beyond the obvious use of the telephone, meetings, conferences, e-mail etc. to encompass dress code, office layouts, desk-tidy policies—in order to build up a comprehensive picture of what is happening. Every aspect of communication provides another piece of the jigsaw and, once this is complete, you have the basis for an evaluation.
The evaluation report will consider attitudes towards the communications (do people look forward to meetings or consider them a waste of time?); it will look at the needs of different groups (the most appropriate way to deliver training, for example) and it will provide evidence of any problems that need to be addressed.
However, it is important to evaluate the audit within a relevant framework. For this reason, key people will have to clarify the purpose for the organization’s existence, its cultural values and its identity. For example, the communications strategy for a budget airline will be very different from one which targets business executives. The two companies will have different purposes, values and identities. They will know exactly who uses their service and why. They will also understand the key frustrations of their customers and must ensure they can use communications to deal with those frustrations effectively.
The audit is thus a valuable tool for enhancing internal motivation, loyalty and efficiency and for beefing up market position. It can be handled internally but there are also benefits from using an external consultant. Employees might feel inhibited about expressing their real view to another company member, whereas an outsider, who guarantees their anonymity, will be less of a threat.
GSC Library Article:
Zwijze-Koning, K. H., & de Jong, M. T. (2015). Network Analysis as a Communication Audit Instrument: Uncovering Communicative Strengths and Weaknesses Within Organizations. Journal Of Business & Technical Communication, 29(1), 36-60.
Hall, B. (2010). Communications Audit: How Can It Help You? “The Side Road”, Prentice-Hall: New York.
Adam Grant: Creativity
Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom, there was a salesman who traveled the countryside, peddling his wares. Everyone loved his product except the evil king, who wanted to do away with it. One day the king said, “This product is ruining my kingdom and I want to destroy it. If anyone has a reason for why this product should live, let him come hither and speak now.” Out of the crowd came a voice. “I think this product is great and I can prove it,” said the brave salesman. “Then come to my palace tomorrow morning and prove to me why this is so,” said the king. And so the salesman went home and prepared PowerPoint slide after PowerPoint slide filled with endless statistics and dizzying market projection graphs.
On the morrow, the salesman turned up at the palace. “Show me why I should spare your miserable product,” said the king. The salesmen opened his trusty laptop and started to plow through his heaping deck of slides. Starting with a company background, the salesman went on to show market trend graphs, customer case studies, and then analyst quotes. The king began to squirm on his throne. When a return on investment spreadsheet appeared on slide 47, the king finally had enough. “Off with your head,” said the king. “Originally, I only wanted to kill your product, but this presentation is criminal.”
Funny story, but you get the point. The point is a message was delivered using a story, not a statistic or an analyst quote.
Much has been written lately about the efficacy of storytelling in the workplace. Most of it is based on a general feeling that stories “work.” Persuasion is the centerpiece of business activity. Trying to convince people with logic is tough for two reasons. One is they are arguing with you in their heads while you are making your argument. Second, if you do succeed in persuading them, you’ve done so only on an intellectual basis. That’s not good enough, because people are not inspired to act by reason alone.”
But there’s more proof of storytelling’s effectiveness than just anecdotal evidence. For example, studies carried out by Melanie C. Green and Timothy C. Brock at Ohio State University have empirically shown that people’s beliefs can be swayed more effectively through storytelling than through logical arguments. The researchers posit that persuasion is most effective when people are “transported” to another place using a story.
People are always telling stories; why don’t they do it at work? It’s because they have been taught that at work you use logic and slides and statistics; this seems more professional. Telling stories seems too emotional and possibly manipulative. So people stick to facts and numbers. But the truth is that real emotions always work better, because that is the way to reach hearts and minds, and also people get to see the real you. It’s authentic.
While we are all intuitively storytellers, where should professionals most often need to focus when telling stories in the workplace? Here are 10 tips for becoming a more effective storyteller at work:
- Plan your story starting with the takeaway message. Think about what’s important to the audience. The ending is the most important point of the story. This is the message we want to deliver, and the one that will linger with the audience.
- Keep your stories short for the workplace. Three to five minutes long is about what people can digest in today’s world.
- Good stories are about challenge or conflict. Without these elements, stories aren’t very interesting. The compelling part of a story is how people deal with conflict–-so start with the people and the conflict.
- Think about your story like a movie. Imagine you are screenwriter with a goal to get your message across. The story has to have a beginning, middle, and end.
- Start with a person and his challenge, and intensify human interest by adding descriptions of time, place, and people with their emotions.
- Be creative. Create a storyboard; draw it out, while listening to music or reading something for inspiration. A good story always has ups and downs, so “arc” the story. Pull people along, and introduce tension, just like in a fairy tale. (“From out of nowhere, the wolf jumps onto the path…”)
- Intensify the story with vivid language and intonation. Tap into people’s emotions with language. Use metaphors, idioms, and parables that have emotional associations
- When using a story in a PowerPoint presentation, use appropriate graphics/pictures to convey your message. Stay away from text and complicated graphics. A single picture interlaced with emotional language will go a long way to convey your message.
- Most of us have not told stories in front of an audience since English class in high school. So you will need to practice. Tell your story in front of a friendly audience and get feedback. Gauge your pace, and take note of the story’s length and your use of language. It will be a bit rusty at first, but underneath it all, we are all born storytellers.
- The most important point is to make the switch within; because once you internalize that today’s “left-brain” communication style doesn’t work very well and you realize that stories are how people really communicate, you will find it a lot easier to proceed…because it’s authentic. And that is what really persuades.
Finally, in the words of Ira Glass, “Great stories happen to those who tell them.” So tell them…and live happily ever after.
Linda Hill: How to Manage for Collective Creativity
GSC Library Article:
Amabile, T. M. (1997). Motivating Creativity in Organizations: ON DOING WHAT YOU LOVE AND LOVING WHAT YOU
DO. California Management Review, 40(1), 39-58.
De Bono, E. (1984) Lateral Thinking for Management, Harmondsworth, Penguin.
Mediratta, B. (2007).’, The New York Times, October 21st..