Transforming my business by Jonathan Timmis

March 16, 2021 - 12:00am

“Is your communication effective? Of course, I send them a Whatsapp message every morning to tell them what to do!”

The last 12-months have taught us a thing or two about communication. We realise now that we can communicate quickly, effortlessly and avoid all the messy psychological stuff that goes with talking to people face to face. We are now able to be much more blunt and even rude when we are communicating as we are protected by the digital ether. Come on, you know what I mean!

It is also much easier to avoid communication, accountability and responsibility. “It must have gone into spam”, “I was on the other line” or “my internet connection was playing up” are excuses that easily roll off the tongue.

Joking aside, I spend much of my time working with business leaders talking about effective communication. For me, effective communication is two-way communication, with lots of listening, questions and feedback, and delivered in a way that is clear, concise and unambiguous to promote understanding. It should also always meet the needs of all parties that enter into that communication so empathy, patience and tolerance are important.

However, although many say to me that they are communicating with their people working remotely when I press them on what they are actually doing it is clear by my measure that communication is not effective. There are the usual excuses about a lack of time and from the discomfort that many feel talking openly and frankly and giving honest feedback.

The other reason I know that communication is not effective is that we can see performance dropping (e.g. deadlines missed, poor quality work), disagreements and challenges to authority becoming more frequent, and low morale. Team members are feeling isolated and disengaged and barely going through the motions.

We also need to consider this in the context of the welfare of our people as they work remotely. I’m sure you ask them if they are okay and they say yes. But can you be sure yes means yes? From my experience, people are often reluctant to be honest when they are struggling. They may worry that they will be judged harshly or seen as weak and incapable. If they fear redundancies, then they may feel this will put them top of the list if and when the axe falls!

We often use body language to signal the hidden meaning or identify what is not being said. Paradoxically, for all the benefits that digital technology claims to offer for communication, it robs us of this valuable tool. Yes, Zoom and the like go some way to address this shortcoming but how many of you are still relying on email and instant messaging? If you are communicating digitally and cannot look people in the eye, then quite frankly you may spot the signals that all is not well.

I guess you may say that this isn’t that important now because we are getting the jab and will all soon be back at work. But, if you are being completely honest, do you see that this will solve all the communication challenges in your organisation from what I have said above? We may still have people that continue to work remotely (even part of the time) for the foreseeable future and many organisations will face huge challenges bouncing back with low morale and disengagement.

The organisations that successfully overcome the challenges of the last 12-months will be those that communicate effectively with the people both inside and outside their organisation. Ask yourself, therefore, what you need to do now to be one of those that successfully transform. More importantly, ask the members of your team what you need to do!