“The difference between a good word and the right word is the same as the difference between a lightning bug and lightning.” – Mark Twain
Effective communication will have a greater impact on your company’s success than any other skill. That’s a big statement, for sure, but it is one we make with absolute conviction.
Effective communication creates several realities:
- It creates shorter meetings, with better internal efficiencies and a more productive use of time.
- It shrinks a product’s time to market.
- It ensures that your brand identity and promise are consistently represented to the marketplace.
- It enables your sales team to understand the intricacies of your organizational message and allows them to speak persuasively with clients and customers.
- It fosters stronger, more successful organizational teams, with clear roles and responsibilities.
Ultimately, effective, clear and direct communication provides the foundation for success in the global economy, which has changed the American business culture quite significantly.
We are no longer the world’s manufacturing giant. That title now belongs to China and other countries where labor costs, among other things, are lower. Of course we still manufacture in the U.S., but our business culture has become increasingly based on services and ideas. The real assets of an organization are more often intellectual property and the relationships required to develop and sell one’s thinking.
While we still make things in America, what we make has become an increasingly smaller part of our value to the world. The bigger piece of our value pie is intangible. Our intellectual property – thoughts, ideas and insights – are worth more than muscle or machines. We provide services. We use our capital to invest in ideas. We consult. We create. We develop. We market. This major shift towards the service economy requires organizations to think and act differently, as well as acquire a different set of skills.
When a company’s greatest asset is tangible – something you make – certain things are critical to success, such as raw materials, manufacturing capability and labor. The skills needed to leverage those assets are about production.
But when the real asset is intangible, your ideas, your expertise and your relationships become more important for success. And the skills needed to leverage these intangible assets have nothing to do with production. The skills needed are about communication.
When your senior leadership team can effectively communicate your organizational vision, managers are better equipped to provide clear direction. When managers provide clear direction, project teams work more efficiently. Individual employees and work groups are more productive, better decisions are made more quickly, time is not wasted and relationships are more cohesive.
In other words, effective communication allows your organization to minimize wasted time and maximize talent, potential and profit.
In our experience at The Latimer Group, the degree to which the American business community recognizes the importance of effective communication varies. We continually find that organizations and companies exist on one of three levels:
- Some companies understand the importance of effective communication and make it a critical competency. These organizations do all the correct things. They make sure they have a coherent organizational message, and they acquire both the tools and the skills of effective communication at all levels. They focus on training initiatives that help provide a strong message and the skills to deliver that message.
- Some companies claim to understand the importance of effective communication, but they don’t walk the talk. These organizations invest in some aspects of effective communication, but not all. Perhaps they acquire the tools of communication, but not the skills. Perhaps they invest in top-level marketing or advertising strategies, but they don’t take the important next step of making sure their people are ready to execute and live the message on the street. They lack the commitment or discipline to put their words into action. For more on this subject, please see Beacon IV, 4 “If I had a Hammer,” July 2006.
- Some companies simply don’t understand the reality, and they ignore the benefits of effective communication altogether. They don’t value it and don’t do anything to develop the correct skills. They fail to see how effective communication applies to their organization or how it can improve productivity and results.
As you look at this list, ask yourself: which type of company is yours? Does your organization truly grasp the importance of effective communication skills? Is your leadership committed to making it happen?
And as you ponder these questions, consider two real life examples that we have encountered in the last year:
- A financial services firm invested millions into a new brand image – new logo, new message and new value proposition. The initiative came from the top. A well-respected advertising firm was hired and significant resources were expended. But… the initiative was not seen through to completion. Little attention was paid to ensuring that the organization’s people on the street – the sales and customer service teams – knew how to bring this new message to life. No one trained them on how they could, or should, execute the new message in their day-to-day work and relationships. The net result was a mess – actions not aligned with the new value proposition; different versions of the message brought to the marketplace; a frustrated work force that wanted more help, but did not receive it.
- An engineering firm tasked with bringing a new product to market faced the challenge as engineers do – by focusing on process. They set up internal structures for project management and benchmark approvals. The thinking was that if they could ensure consensus at critical junctions, the process would run smoothly. But they did not train their engineers to speak concisely and clearly. Meetings intended to facilitate consensus lacked clarity and took too much time. Productivity suffered, and deadlines were missed. Internal presentations intended to share critical information and enable good decisions failed to provide a clear call for action. Ultimately, the product launch was delayed by six months because there was no internal consensus on how to execute and differing opinions were never resolved in the many meetings that were held.
Situations such as these are all too common in the American business culture. When we peel back the details, the underlying issue is the same: an inability to communicate effectively. More specifically, poor communication will detract from the bottom line in the form of significant additional time, resources or money. When we improve our ability to articulate our message and express our ideas, we dramatically increase our odds for success.
Here’s the take away: you can possess the best minds within your company or produce the greatest products. But if your organization cannot communicate internally and externally, time and resources will be wasted. In a world of streamlined cost structures and shrinking margins, reducing waste is no small feat. The company that understands the real value of effective communication and develops the right organizational skills has significant competitive advantage.
Regardless of your industry or your company’s value proposition, effective communication – from the individual to the organization as a whole – will provide you with great leverage.
In a world where organizations are driven by ideas, intellectual property and relationships, what could be more important? In our opinion, nothing.
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