Monday, October 23, 2000

Clear, Unambiguous Communication the First Key to Success

New Economy Management: Clear, Unambiguous Communication the First Key to Success ~ Charles Caldwell, Asia Pacific HR Director for Rockwell Automation, provides a series of management concepts for individuals looking to develop their management and business skills in The New Economy.

Communication is certainly no new concept; in fact it is just plain common sense. As Dilbert comically drives home it should come as no surprise for people to learn that common sense can be quite uncommon. People with more and more business experience realize this, too. Throughout this article I have emphasized the differences between Old and New Economy communication styles so that managers can be more effective in motivating employees and producing results in a New Economy environment.

Clear, Unambiguous Communication

In both Old and New Economies communication stands at the top of the list as a key management skill. Despite this, it is amazing how terrible some managers’ communication skills are, which as a result, leaves many people paying lip service to communication. Managers might say that communication is important, but all too often management actions fail to demonstrate the importance of communication. Conversely, management sometimes communicates too much, or too many messages that leave employees confused and possibly not listening at all. “ ‘Avoiding The Internet No Longer An Option’ – Michael Dell” provides a good description of this issue.

In the Old Economy employees were tolerant of poor communication. In the New Economy, with corporate clock speeds moving faster and faster, there is no room for poor communication – the cost is just too great. Employees know this and are less likely to tolerate communication inaction.

What exactly do I mean by “Clear and Unambiguous Communication?” Clear means comprehensive and understandable messages that make sense. Unambiguous means leaving no opportunity for multiple meanings to be derived from one message. Remember that it always helps to communicate lots, and check to make sure your messages have been received loud and clear. I might add at this point that stakeholders (managers, shareholders, investors, etc.) hate surprises that regular communication could avoid.

In the New Economy style of communication plays a bigger role than it did in The Old Economy. Traditionally, Old Economy managers have had the luxury of managing by fear and intimidation and leaving employees in the dark. This modus operandae is no longer acceptable. Management is now expected to empower employees, keep them informed and be polite. This does not mean that managers need to be any less rigorous in what they demand from employees. If anything New Economy employees are expected to produce more than before to demonstrate their worth to the company – the social contract is broken and employment for life is no longer a given.

The above criticism of the Old Economy does mean that Old Economy managers have been failing in the task of communication. Many Old Economy managers are outstanding, empowering leaders. However, the New Economy is establishing a New World Order and everyone has a lot to learn about empowering, motivating and retaining talent in the new order of things. (Stay tuned for an upcoming story on The War for Talent.) Communication and management styles play a big part in the New World Order.

For example, in the Old Economy, employees were typically shielded from confidential information. How many times have you heard a manager say, “This I confidential,” and that specific information should be withheld from certain individuals? Yes, certain matters are still confidential, but the majority of information once held, as privy to management, is no longer private. Recall countless stories of employees openly sharing their salaries, which would have been unheard of in an Old Economy setting.

There are two repercussions of this New Economy style of communication. First, management is expected to be much more forthcoming with information, and communicate that information in an empowering, motivating fashion. Second, people are expected to be mature about handling and reacting to sensitive information. This speaks directly to the shift towards “personal responsibility” that is becoming more and more common in employee attitudes. The good news is that employees will manage their reactions to difficult situations. The bad news is that employees will also manage their own careers. If employees dislike the way management conducts business, or feel demeaned by dis-empowering management or communication styles – they’ll leave.

In the New Economy, increasing the level of communication is not good enough. Management needs to elevate the level and style of communication to an entirely new level. As the attached figure illustrates, this involves communicating upward to stakeholders, sideways to partners and alliances, and downward throughout the organization. The New Economy requires a paradigm shift and when it comes to New Economy Management clear unambiguous communication is the first key to success.

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