Analyzing the Communication Challenge

Here’s the scenario: Your organization is undergoing a horizontal merger that will create a new, larger company with more market share. As a result, elaborate new change communication plans are being created. The communication plans are designed to get employees up to speed on the strategic changes taking place, the logistics of the move, and the resulting communication efforts going forward.

The stakes are high, given the complexity of the merger, the benefits to your organization, and the potential growth opportunities for everyone involved. Since the changes are extensive and complex in nature, each employee is expected to attend the sessions. While these change communication sessions seem innocuous and straightforward in theory, many of the employees are confused about their required attendance. Even worse, the new plans are very difficult to decipher, leaving employees with more questions than answers.

As I write this, this scenario—or something similar—is playing out in countless organizations. And while the answers to the questions above might seem simple enough, some companies don’t answer them leaving their employees in the dark. What are they supposed to do?

Communication issues are inevitable. Collaboration may seem off kilter if the mechanisms you use to communicate aren’t working properly. Communication issues can either be miscommunication, over-communication, or too little communication. Each one can have a debilitating effect on your business efforts:

  • Miscommunication: Sometimes, your communication efforts are right, but there may be a lack of understanding on the part of one party or both parties.
  • Over-communication: Too much communication can lead to stress. Too many meetings can lead to inaction and no execution. Sorting through information that isn’t relevant to the goal or project is also a form of over-communication.
  • Undercommunication: Were your initial discussions rushed to the point you don’t feel confident moving forward in executing your project? Are you not receiving enough updates? There may be potential problems on the horizon that, without enough information, won’t be solved in time.

Miscommunication and over-communication happen more frequently than you think, often manifesting itself without recognition by the participants and/or the organizers. Are you meeting too much with your people? Why are those meetings necessary? Are you not communicating something clearly the first time?

There are plenty of organizations that under communicate their ideas significantly. Most times, a memo to the team isn’t enough to adequately explain changes, or answer your employees’ questions. Assumptions can be a progress stopper and a communication killer

Companies only have so much time and energy to spare. They need to use their assets (employees) in as productive a manner as possible. That means maximizing your efforts to produce the best results. That can’t happen when employees are limited by the information—or lack of information– they receive.

With all this said, what does great communication look like? As communication designers, we know clarity of message is the key component for any successful program—whether that’s implementing a new training effort for your employees or initiating an ask and answer program for the organization. Your purpose and your intent should shine through clearly, making any room for interpretation negligible at best. A vision for change can easily get lost in translation if your organization is engaging in these progress killers. Communication that includes clear intent and consistent action by organizational leaders is the most powerful tool for effecting changes in vision.

To illustrate: ThoughtForm uses a term called Foglifter® to describe a visual explanation of complex topics—and why they’re a solution corporate organizations can use to solve complex communication problems. Visual communication pieces increase communications efficiency and effectiveness, helping organizations avoid that over/under communication trap. Foglifters work because:

  • People pay attention to images
  • Pictures are approachable
  • People understand images
  • Decoding an image requires the audience to actively participate.

At ThoughtForm, we understand that communication challenges present many different moving parts. That complexity is what challenges us to bring forth the most innovative solutions possible.

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