The Cost Of Poor Organizational Communication
Various studies have tried to put a dollar figure on the cost of poor organizational communication. According to SHRM, this could be as much as $62.4 billion per year. And another study reports that 56 percent of project budgets are at risk because of poor communication.
More difficult to put a figure on are some of the softer impacts of poor communications. Damaged relationships, misunderstandings, increased frustration, and a breakdown in trust are harder to quantify but have no less devastating consequences.
Barriers To Effective Organizational Communication
Before you can begin to improve organizational communication, it’s vital to understand the barriers which may be getting in the way.
Organizational communication barriers will vary from business to business. In general terms, they can be divided into three broad categories:
Physical Communication Barriers
This category covers all physical barriers to communication. It could be closed office doors, geographically dispersed workplaces, remote working, and since Covid, social distancing rules.
Language Communication Barriers
Multi-national companies may employ workers who speak different languages from head office. These employees often also have different cultural experiences that impact communications. This category also covers tone, clarity, and the use of jargon in organizational communications.
Emotional Communication Barriers
A lack of trust, disengagement, and even fear can impact the effectiveness of organizational communications.
The world of work changed dramatically during 2020. The rise of remote working, distributed teams, and new digital communication channels have complicated the communications landscape. Here are some of the specific barriers to organizational communication that have emerged recently.
The gig economy, more non-desk roles, tech advances, and the global pandemic have accelerated the shift towards remote working. Distributed teams encompassing freelancers, contractors, and employees often working inter-state or even in different countries have become standard. And this new way of working has made effective organizational communications more challenging.
Already an issue for many employees, information overload has worsened since the onset of the pandemic. In one recent UK survey, 47 percent of respondents agree that the number of information sources they check each day has increased in the last five years. And with potential information sources including email, newsfeeds, social media sites, company intranet, shared drives, plus many more, it’s no wonder workers feel swamped.
The constant ping of email notifications, instant messaging apps, and the lure of social media make it harder for staff to stay focused on what’s important. All that noise is simply overwhelming.
Shrinking Attention Spans
There’s evidence that our attention spans have decreased in response to information overload and our distracted lifestyles. According to Forbes, the average attention span is now just eight seconds, down from twelve seconds in 2000.
Complexity Of Communication Channels
Organizational communications were easy when the only options were email and the staff newsletter. Nowadays, the sheer number of channels makes it harder for employers to select the most appropriate channels to keep workers informed. And it becomes more challenging for staff to find the information they need. According to McKinsey, the average employee spends 20 percent of their time searching for internal information.
Different Types of Organizational Communication
This section provides an overview of the types of messages businesses need to get across every day. Understanding the kind of message will influence choices on how best to deliver the message and what channels to use.
General Business Updates
Keeping everyone informed of what’s going on is, of course, a primary focus of organizational communications. Usually top-down, it includes messages around company performance, industry news, product updates, or new services. Employees also need to know what’s happening in the wider industry.
Staff need a wide variety of information to get the job done safely and effectively. This type of communication includes policies and procedures, SOPs, product manuals, plus any new products or services in the pipeline.
Change is probably the only certainty in business. Effective and timely communications are needed to support change management. This type of organizational communications includes news about mergers and acquisitions, restructuring, staff movements, or new software. It also covers changes to the external operating environment, such as new rules and regulations or changes to legislation.
The global pandemic is an excellent example of crisis communications in action. However, this category also includes natural disasters, police or fire incidents, plus cyberattacks and system outages.
These messages reinforce company culture and shared values. It could be team-building events, employee recognition, corporate charitable initiatives, or even social activities.
How To Develop An Organizational Communication Plan
Organizational communications are too important to leave to chance. Thorough planning and preparation are the foundations of success. Otherwise, grapevine communications and the rumor mill will take over. An innocent meeting with external consultants could easily be repurposed as a full-scale restructure once the grapevine kicks in.
But how do you get started on developing your organizational communications strategy? Here we make it easy for you. All you need to do is follow the five easy steps identified below.
Five Steps To Developing An Effective Organizational Communication Strategy
1. Review Your Current Organizational Communication
Starting with a blank canvas is always daunting. However, there are bound to be some elements of your current organizational communications that are working well. And no doubt, there’s also room for improvement.
Start by reviewing where you are at. And make sure you involve employees in the review. After all, the success of your strategy depends on staff joining you on the communications journey. Use the following questions to guide your thinking:
- What communications channels work well?
- How do employees like to receive information?
- Which channels prompt the most action from workers?
- How are you engaging with distributed teams?
2. Know Your Audience
Even small businesses are made up of a diverse group of employees. These workers will be performing different roles in various teams, but they will also have individual communication preferences. In the past, companies have been guilty of impersonal, generic communications. Remember the all-staff email? In reality, these messages are often only relevant to a small section of workers rather than everyone. When information overload is a real problem, it’s no wonder impersonal all-staff emails often remain unopened.
Identifying your audience is a critical step to successful organizational communications. Today’s diverse and tech-savvy employees expect segmented, personalized, and most important of all, relevant communications.
So, who are the internal audiences in your business? There are various ways you can break down your internal audience. Here are a few ideas:
- Full-time and part-time staff members
- Remote workers
- Freelancers and contractors
- Non-desk employees (perhaps on-the-road sales personnel, field technicians, or manufacturing staff)
- Multi-generations – Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, etc.
- Role-based audiences – admin, managers, sales staff, and so
- Departmental workers – HR, marketing, finance, etc.
Once you have identified your internal audiences, it’s time to think about their likes, dislikes, and communication styles. For example, digital natives like Millennials and Gen Zers are more likely to favor social communication platforms. Whereas Baby Boomers usually prefer face-to-face communications or traditional media like staff newsletters. Furthermore, non-desk staff will want mobile-friendly communications. And head office-based employees are likely to be using desktops for organizational communications.
A better understanding of your audiences and their information needs will help you tailor your messaging. And it will help you to select the most appropriate communication channels. There’s more on communication channels later in this ultimate guide.
3. Set A Budget For Your Organizational Communication
Be clear from the start about what funds and resources are at your disposal. After all, organizational communications are a business-critical activity and deserve to be properly resourced. Plus, setting objectives and goals without knowing the financial parameters is tough. A clear budget helps you prioritize what’s achievable.
4. Set Objectives For Your Organizational Communication
Having an overarching objective for your plan provides a focus and framework. For some businesses, the top priority will be engaging with remote workers. For others, it could be improving the employee experience or developing corporate culture. Whatever you do, please keep it simple. It’s best two have one or two main objectives. Too many goals become unachievable and also dilute your primary purpose. Don’t forget that your priorities will change over time. Next year’s plan may well have an entirely different focus from this year’s one.
When formulating complementary goals that feed into the overarching objective, be sure to use a planning tool to help. Some people find the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis a helpful technique. Others prefer the 5 Ws and H (why, what, who, where, when, and how).
Whatever technique you use, make sure your objectives are SMART:
And always make a direct link with corporate goals and KPIs. After all, organizational communications should support your overall business goals.
5. Test Out Your Plan On Staff
Before you finalize the organizational communications plan, please test it out with a sample group of staff. This vital step will help you finetune the strategy and provides validation that you are on track.
Ask workers to review the draft objectives and identified communication channels. Is the language accessible, and does it set the appropriate tone? Are the specified channels the right ones? Is it clear who is responsible for what and when? Does the plan address the ‘what’s in for me’ question in the minds of the workforce?
Take the feedback on board and revise your organizational communications strategy accordingly to reflect the learning.
In part three, we’ll cover how to select the right communications channels, monitor and measure the impact of organizational communications, and summarize the overall points covered in this guide.
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