Innovation occurs for many reasons, including greed, ambition, conviction, happenstance, acts of nature, mistakes, and desperation. But one force above all seems to facilitate the process. The easier it is to communicate, the faster change happens.
Many leaders have the notion that communication is a “soft” issue, having very little effect on profit. The enormity of communicating in today’s interconnected economy can be overwhelming, given the number of different languages, technologies, industries, and markets across the globe
Consider the experience of a measurement instrument company that hired a consulting company to improve its process of getting new products to market. The research began with a meeting of about 40 senior engineers.
The meeting was designed to gather information from the engineers on what they considered to be the main barriers to getting their products to market. They divided themselves into small groups and began to create lists. Then, as a group, they labeled the barriers as either technical or social.
After tallying the chart scores, they determined that 81 percent of their barriers were social. One manager said,“We’re always trying to take waster out of our technical processes, but in 22 years I’ve been here, we have never even looked at taking waster out of our interactions with people.”
The engineers worked on their communication skills and cut their development cycle in half. The project’s sponsor commented that if they had made these changes five years earlier, they would have saved $50 million.
There are numerous examples of costly failures as a result of poor communication. The Challenger disaster is a tragic example. The banking failures beginning in 2008 can be highly attributed to a lack of information being shared with deserving parties.
Statistics on the success of mergers, acquisitions, and alliances also show that today’s leaders are no better at communicating than they were many years ago. Studies by some of the top accounting firms show that most mergers and acquisitions fail. The average statistics are:
• 60 percent of merged companies lose value after five years.
• 30 percent have no increase in value.
• 10 percent are successful at increasing value.
This is after billions have been spent on Business Intelligence software and hardware systems to connect, integrate, disseminate, and more.
While the risk of this problem is higher in companies involved in mergers and acquisitions, there are similar challenges within more stable organizations. Consider interdepartmental conversations such as the exchange of information, needs, and ideas between information technology (IT) and marketing. Some people experience the other department as speaking a different language.
These chasms of understanding exist between many departments with specialized workers whose thinking patterns may be different. Similarly, important conversations take place with entities outside the organization, such as vendors, suppliers, investors, auditors, and authorities. The style of communication may vary among all these interested parties.
Mickey Connolly and Richard Rianoshek, in The Communication Catalyst, offer a three-part conversational model that is useful for enhancing important activities such as “teamwork, planning, accountability, and learning”:
1. Align. Conversation facilitates the sense of shared purpose, enhances creativity, and promotes smart planning.
2. Act. Conversation clarifies accountabilities and initiates action.
3. Adjust. Conversations evaluate performance and acknowledge successes or launch corrective action.
When these three related elements are effective, work is meaningful, satisfying, and fast. We infuse work with meaning, galvanize teams, and inflame loyalty among customers, employees, and investors. When these elements are ineffective, we decelerate our high-speed ambitions. We render work meaningless, destroy teamwork, and inflame discontent among customers, employees and investors.
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