Houston – We have a Communications Problem!

426123_96981711How often don’t we hear that sort of remark! And even worse, this: "We know that communication is a problem, but the company is not going to discuss it with employees (Excerpt from a Humour column – words uttered by an AT& T manager)".

The issue is that were there is smoke there’s fire, and what organisations need to do is pinpoint the real cause of the communication problem. And that is dependent on proper communication diagnosis and root cause analysis. Let’s analyse this word Diagnosis:

‘Diagnosis – The effective solution of organisational communication problems is dependent on a thorough diagnosis. In the absence of a thorough diagnosis, a person may apply the wrong solutions and this approach can lead to the prescription of treatments for ailments that do not exist’.

Few doctors just amputate. They seek further tests before making decisions. The same rule should apply to communication interventions. Here is some guidelines for proper diagnosis:

  • Pinpoint and describe the problem
  • Gather and interpret the evidence (Beware Desk analysis . Seek diverse opinions and inputs on defining a problem).
  • You can rely on your own judgement but preferably you should use someone that understands communication as a process, both from an interpersonal and organisational point of view.
  • Look at the big picture: i.e. regard the entire organisation as the client (Business units are only a system within a supra system).
  • Always perform root cause analysis i.e. so you can determine the real causes and not just address symptoms.
  • Keep in mind that problems occur in clusters. When one problem or barrier has been identified, there will most likely be others associated with it. Example – A staff member who does not show responsibility because of undefined or unrealistic work expectations will likely also show a level of distrust in his or her superiors.
  • Remember that Problems and barriers tend to sustain and reinforce each other.

In performing the diagnosis you should pay attention to this as well:

  • Face -to – face communication, whether one-in-one or in groups;
  • Written communication in the forms of letters, memos, e-mails and internal reports;
  • Communication patterns among individuals, sections and departments;
  • Communication channels and frequency of interaction (communication workload);
  • Communication content, it’s clarity and effectiveness;
  • Information needs of individuals, sections and departments;
  • Information technology, particular with respect to the human and organisational aspects of using communication and information technology;
  • Informal communication, particularly as it affects motivation and performance;
  • Non-verbal communication (such as physical layout of work areas, marks of seniority or norms of dress and manner, as they affect the efficiency of the organisation;
  • Communication climate, or "corporate culture"

Remember that as a rule all communication interventions should start with a proper diagnosis. Could you spot the one I left out?