Why We Fail to Communicate

One of my most significant business lessons came early in my career, when I was put in charge of a large-scale employee attitude survey as a human resources manager at the Gillette Co. Overall, the feedback was strongly positive, with 93% of employees saying that they would recommend the company as a good place to work, and positive response rates over 50% in 17 out of 18 categories. The only category that fell below 50%? Communication. Only 47% of our employees at that time thought we did a good job at communicating, but we were still 3% higher than the national average!

I have had the opportunity since then to work with many leaders across a variety of industries and functions, and, though I have worked with leaders who were great communicators, I have to admit that they were in the minority. So, why do leaders fail to effectively communicate to their employees? Let me give a few of my observations:

1. They don’t think about it. Some leaders are focused on their core competency, and communicating with their employees is an afterthought.

2. They make assumptions. One technology leader told me that he thought the average employee in his organization would have little interest in the strategic plan behind a new product launch. I convinced him to share (what he could) at a company-wide meeting, and he was overwhelmed by both the level of interest and the enthusiasm he received.

3. They don’t care. Unfortunately, I have seen leaders who suffer from such egos that they care little for those in their organizations.

4. They are afraid of conflict. Sometimes leaders need to communicate difficult messages that will draw responses that they don’t want to deal with, so they do nothing instead.

5. They don’t communicate well. Some leaders are prepared to communicate with their employees, but fail to take the time to anticipate their audience and carefully craft their message, and as a result they communicate poorly.

Communication is not easy. Even in close, personal relationships, we forget to keep someone informed or communicate in a way that leads to misunderstanding. Communicating to larger audiences in the corporate setting requires even more careful thought.

Bob Kustka Founder and CEO The Fusion Factor Norwell, Mass.

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