Excellence in non-communication

Excellence in non-communication - image for article by Greg Alder

Bill, the CEO of AcmeCom, receives an email from a trusted consultant. Jill, the consultant, has been guiding the company’s communications for several years. It hasn’t been easy. Being independent, she feels she has insights that those inside the business sometimes miss. She can see problems – or as she prefers to call them, opportunities. Now she has written to Bill identifying a few challenging opportunities and has proffered her suggestions to fix them. Bill reads her email. He doesn’t respond.

In the finance department, the company accountant receives a call from a creditor. Tina, the accountant, recognises the creditor’s phone number, and chooses not to answer the call. The creditor leaves a voice message. Tina deletes the voice message without listening to it. She doesn’t return the creditor’s call. It’s one of 7 identical calls she’ll ignore today. 7 creditors, 1 question: When can we expect payment of our outstanding invoices?

In the weekly sales meeting, Pete the sales manager keeps his speech short. He always keeps it short: “Our strike rate is 20%. If we’re going to hit our target, you need to chase five times your target. One of you has done okay. Well done, Tim. The rest of you, please, pick up your game. OK, go out there and smash it out of the park.” End of communication.

Will, one of AcmeCom’s clients, is tired of hearing complaints from his team about how the technology installed by AcmeCom isn’t working. He calls AcmeCom’s tech leader, Dan. Dan’s busy dealing with another client’s complaint. He lets Will’s call go to voice message. A few days later, he thinks about returning the call. He doesn’t, because he can’t solve Will’s problem. He hopes it will solve itself. It doesn’t.

Amrut, on AcmeCom’s tech team, has identified the cause of some of AcmeCom’s client problems. However, the only time anyone in management has even spoken to him has been in all-staff meetings. He’s never felt so unappreciated in his career. He doesn’t feel like telling management about his solution to the fault. So, he doesn’t.

Nick, AcmeCom’s best sales agent, has a few prospects he has been nurturing. However, he’s reluctant to bring any of them on board because he knows AcmeCom can’t deliver the services it promises. Besides, he hasn’t been paid his commission for 10 months. He’s waiting to hear from Accounts when he’ll be paid, but his monthly enquiries go unanswered.

Daniel, the AcmeCom chairman, has watched the company’s share value halve since the IPO six months ago. For the last 2 weeks, nobody’s been buying, and nobody’s been selling. He knows the market is waiting to see if his company can regain lost ground. He doesn’t have any good news to share with investors. So, he doesn’t.

He doesn’t want to communicate that AcmeCom is losing clients for the reasons above. He especially doesn’t want investors to know that the goodwill that accounted for 80% of AcmeCom’s IPO valuation has vaporised.

Why people don’t communicate

There are usually 3 reasons people in business don’t respond to emails or phone calls:

  • The email is about a problem we can’t solve
  • The email is about an invoice we can’t pay
  • The email is about a solution to a problem we don’t think we have

There are 4 common reasons for not initiating communication:

  • We only have bad news
  • We don’t think our news is important
  • We don’t think our audience is important
  • We don’t think communication is important

Non-communication is rampant in AcmeCom, but you won’t find it in company policy. Nevertheless, everyone practises it and is expert at it, from the Chairman down.

Why communicate?

If you Google ‘importance of communication in business’, you will get 446,000,000 results. Clearly, communication is important to some businesses. Why?

  • It ensures everyone’s on the same page. People know objectives. They understand their role in achieving these objectives.
  • It builds relationships. Communication builds understanding and trust. We’d prefer honest bad news than no news.
  • It leads to innovation. Breakthroughs in product, service delivery and process come from idea sharing. Innovation builds growth.
  • It buys time. Better to make a long-range promise you’re confident you can keep than keep your audience guessing. And calling. And emailing.
  • It averts rumours. If you don’t share facts, people will share hearsay.
  • It accelerates decision making. Clear and prompt communication avoids days, weeks and months of waiting and frustration.
  • It builds morale. Team members feel valued that leaders have shared thoughts, celebrated successes and rewarded ideas. Partners feel encouraged to share more insights and solutions.
  • It builds investor confidence. Better to explain a loss in value (ideally, softened by an optimistic forecast) than ignore it.

If there were an award for Excellence in Non-communication, AcmeCom would be champions. Of course, it’s a fictional company, but I have created it to illustrate many common and crippling communications problems in organisations around the world.

So, what are some glorious examples of bad communication that you’ve encountered? Share them here.

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