When communication loses common sense.

Lindsay Uittenbogaard Commscrumming from The Hague

I saw the communication plan for a new business improvement programme last week.  It was an MS excel sheet embedded at the back of the programme introduction slides.  As the responsible person for communication in this particular part of the business, I waited as the spreadsheet opened to see what was inside with a curious (and slightly infringed) mind.  Who had written a communication plan without involving me?  What were the contents?

Some 20 rows had been completed.  The contents specified the types of document that would be shared, which levels of the governance organization structure would receive them (and the RACI definitions per item), and how often they would be shared. There was no mention of how the improvement programme would inform / involve the wider stakeholder groups – or indeed how their input would be incorporated to support the desired ‘improvement’ outcomes.

Momentarily, I caught a glimpse of the near future: multiple parties work through their emails whilst simultaneously tuning in with one ear to bi-weekly ‘improvement programme’ steering committee conference calls, responding only when their names are called out or speaking up when their latest caffeine hit kicks in.  Documents are emailed, boxes are ticked, people tune in vaguely, and at the end of 12 weeks the improvement does not happen and another priority comes up requiring programme-style communication.

Coincidentally, on the same day, I was asked by a member of the IT Security Team if I could fill in a compliance form to certify that certain communication items had been distributed for audit purposes.  My comment in this process was “But that communication was only read by about 30% of the recipients who received it.”  The response was: “We don’t need to check that – we just need to know that the communication took place.”

Is this just me being cynical on a cold, rainy Thursday in November or is the common sense behind communication being overtaken?

Mike Klein – Commscrumming Coolly in Cold Copenhagen

“There are those who know the price of everything…and the value of nothing.”  The ever-perceptive Oscar Wilde was speaking of the cynical, and such cynicism about communication remains rampant among both who purchase it and practice it.

Coming from a political campaign background, I can go toe to toe with anyone on the matter of surveys and measurement.  And much of what I encounter is the “measurement for measurement’s sake” along the lines Lindsay decries above.

Recently, following a survey fielded recently at my current employer which included (shock and awe) a number of open ended questions, I had a conversation with a fellow comms pro and blogger suggesting a closed-ended “pulse survey.”  I listened with skeptical interest, and then saw the questions being suggested.  “I’m aware of the change.”  “I understand the change and my place in it.”  And on and on.  Positive, leading questions, with little scope for eliciting real issues reverberating under the surface.

To be sure, the value of any pulse survey is more in the trends and less in the questionnaire.  But when we communicators give credence to the idea that communication is a tactical box to be ticked rather than a strategic force that defines the shape of the boxes, we do ourselves and our clients no favors.  Resist dumbed-down measurement with violence if need be.

Geoff Barbaro Commscrumming in Melbourne, Australia

Lindsay, it’s a great question you raise, though the more I deal with companies and organisations, the more I wonder whether common sense is allowed to permeate any sphere of their operations and directions.

When I read your examples, I wonder how much of this has to do with the organisation and how much of it is the result of external influences. For example, in your IT compliance audit example, was that the result of a demand from the insurers, the requirements of the relevant legislation or even the advice of the legal team to avoid liability issues?

Nothing in your examples leads to a conclusion that an organisation is trying to live its values, achieve its vision, look after its people, implement its strategies or align all of these with operations. Or as Mike would say, to work with intent. Your exclusion from the communication planning process, the dictatorial outline of the nature of people’s involvement in the process, the failure to care whether people embrace the communications involved are just some of the factors that scream “we say we are one organisation committed to a vision, but we are really a mob of managers who want to exercise some command and control over the rest of you.”

Yet this seems to be accepted as good management, good leadership, even a good use of resources. Even worse, Mike will probably be able to provide plenty of examples where this will be measured in ways that produce good results.

I don’t believe common sense is the silver bullet, but I do believe it shouldn’t be abandoned entirely. Where common sense can be utilised, it creates really effective, efficient and successful operations and communications without the need for too much oversight and management. And it aligns with vision, values, strategies and intent where we properly understand and care about them. Where common sense can steer us wrong and can’t be utilised is where you need to institute great communications, engagement and change processes with good leadership and management.

I want to tick one of Mike’s strategic trapezohedrons, not some tactical box, so I look for communication as a human activity between people, meaning common sense must play a part. I’m not convinced that the ways we organise businesses encourage the use of common sense.

Keohane from London

Mike Klein said it already a while back: Intent. Basically that’s my response.  What are we trying to accomplish?  What is our intent in undertaking the activity?  Too often the tool is driving the process.



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