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Opportunity 45Due to the fact that we travel to our clients, it’s difficult to get many of our staff together in one place at one time. Twice a year we make an effort to bring most of the firm together so we can communicate company strategies and results. We have an open meeting where our executives discuss the results and plans of the various parts of the business. The functional plans, as is the case with many organizations, often introduce changes of one kind or another. During the actual meeting there are rarely questions, which sometimes fools us into thinking the message has been clear and well communicated. With alarming frequency, the next day we find that there is a disconnect somewhere between what was intended in the messaging, and what our employees actually took away from it.

Clarity of communication throughout an organization is difficult and is the second key component of organizational alignment. It’s particularly important when going through any kind of change management program. What people actually communicate to one another can either support the overall direction of the organization or become an impediment and negatively impact results. When we look for opportunities to improve organizational communication, we focus on three distinct management levels:

  1. Corporate messaging
  2. Executive direction
  3. Front line management

Corporate messaging, or any kind of broad organizational communication, is tricky because people listen to messages from different perspectives, and they interpret consequences of the message from their own viewpoint. Most people listen and rapidly translate the message into how whatever is being discussed will impact them personally. So broad messages need to be simple and very clear about what is changing, why it’s changing, and how it will impact individuals. To make sure the intent is not misinterpreted, the message needs to be repeated at lower levels of the organization with smaller groups (or even one-on-one with impacted individuals). Executive direction refers to how executives translate the overall organizational strategy into more discrete plans that help people understand how their area objectives align. Here breakdowns occur when the direct link is unclear or contradictory. Finally front line management carry the message to employees on a daily basis and what they say, and what they actually do, will either communicate alignment or cause confusion.

One of the big issues with communication is that it’s hard to keep the message consistent through the three levels. Employees tend to be skeptical of change and for the stated reasons behind the change. Employees often trust their immediate manager more than they do executives and so the words and actions of that manager are very important for alignment. If the reward system for each of the management levels doesn’t align, often you find the actions of management are not consistent with the messaging. We will look at some of the complications of aligning rewards in the next Opportunity.