Thursday, June 6, 2013

Coherence or Communication? Another Buzz Word Enters the Business Lexicon

WOW, Booz & Company, according to the Bulldog Reporter, has done a new study revealing that a majority of business leaders (64%) said the biggest frustration for managers is having too many conflicting priorities. Most executives (54%) said they do not believe their company’s strategy will lead to success. Most (53%) could not say that their strategy is understood by employees and customers. The numbers get worse from there.

According to Booz & Company, the problem is “coherence”… the new buzz word. They have even developed a Coherence Test which yields a score designed to help business leaders determine, apparently, just how incoherent their businesses are strategically.

Executives and leaders blame these problems on strategies they don’t believe in, inattentive employees and customers who say they don’t understand what the goals and achievements are supposed to be. If employees don’t get it and customers are confused, the reasons and responsibility tracks right back to the doorstep of the CEO and top management.

Most CEOs, literally most, fail to recognize how essential their constant, direct, personal engagement is in communicating the strategic framework supporting decisions essential to the success of their programs, aspirations, and goals.

The Booz study omits two management performance areas that are absolutely critical to operational coherence (if there really is such a thing).
  1. The impact of Management Communication, and 
  2. The true nature of the executive communication functions.

Management Communication Impact

Too many CEO’s believe that if they say it once, everybody hears it, understands it, passes it on to others and will t make operational choices based on it. Yeah, sure. Here is where and how employees really get their information:

CEO................................................................ 5%
Upper Management.............................................. 6%
Middle Management............................................. 7%
District Management........................................... 10%
First Line Supervisor........................................... 30%
TGNTM (the guy or girl next to me).......................... 20%
IMIU (I made it up because nobody told me)................ 22%
                                                                                  100%

Yes, you read this correctly. Employees invent nearly ¼ of the decisions they make every day because they never get the word. Employees get 1/5 of their information from the person who works in the next cubical rather than reading themselves or listening carefully to what management is saying. And of course, their first line supervisor is usually the most important source of employee information in any organization. This is true despite the fact that the first line supervisor is the most neglected and often maligned member of the management team.

The lesson of this is about how much more the CEO and top management need to be engaged in directing the organizational capabilities and communicating strategic priorities downstream on an on-going basis.


Leadership Communication Function Ratios

In organizations that really work, regardless of the daily chaos and incoherence, you find engaged executives purposefully involved in making certain that everybody understands what is going on, what’s needed, and how to recognize success. A communication function analysis of effective executives looks very similar to this:

Function Daily Amount

Decision Making............................................... 5 %
Articulating Decisions........................................ 40 %
Coaching/Teaching/Motivating............................. 40 %
Forecasting.................................................... 5 %
Admiration Building........................................... 6 % (Management wants the credit)
Reputation Repair............................................. 1 % (More if there is trouble or controversy)
Repeating, Re-emphasizing, Re-interpreting............. 20 %
                                                                                117 %*

*Because the job of a leader is close to 24/7, anyone who does anything on a 24/7 basis is, by definition, doing substantially more than any peer in a non-leadership position. This is what leaders do.

It still is rather amazing to me that after doing work in communications for all these years, virtually every post-mortem I attend or participate in on the death of a strategy or the failure of an organization to successfully respond to emergencies, threats and problems, the very first functional failure identified is communication from leadership to critical areas of the organization. One has to wonder if those who teach managers and management and those who are managers and management are ever going to get this part of their job.

Coherence is a laudable goal for any organization. But, it is aggressive, constructive, helpful, and relentlessly incremental executive communication that gets organizations moving toward victory and the success they seek.

P.S. As I was digesting this information, I was thinking about introducing a new acronym into the management lexicon to describe the behavior of employees in the incoherent organization. It’s called, the Dysfunctional Employee Attention Deficit Disorder, or DEADD. Perhaps Booz & Company can do a study to determine just how many DEADD employees an incoherent organization has. Oh well, never mind.

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James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA is the author of Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication, What Your CEO Needs to Know About Reputation Risk and Crisis Management, available now at Amazon.com.

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