We all know how transparent euphemisms can crush credibility, and yet communication in many organizations – inside and out – still remains stuck in the seductive tendency to sanitize the bad news and glamorize the good news. Take, for example, a recent occurrence on a St. Louis public playground when a young boy suffered blistering burns from going down a slide on a hot summer day. Demonstrating a rare flare for sanitizing rhetoric, city officials wrote a letter to the parents calling it an “unpleasant incident.” Yeah, I’d say.
Not to be outdone, President Bush recently responded to the growing chorus for withdrawal from Iraq with a realzinger. We shouldn’t have a time line for getting out, he said. It’s more of a time horizon. The only question is who should have to wear the dunce cap for that kind of numbskull charade – the president or his spinners?
Talking Straight with Employees
Of course, nobody really expects straight talk from politicians. But what about the manipulative way organizations communicate with employees on dicey issues? What’s more, how does that treatment getreflected in the misleading ways that companies communicate with customers? Often, the failure to be open and honest with internal communication stems from the belief that the average employee can’t handle challenging or sensitive information. Anyone who hasn’t gotten over that myth yet should stop and read no further.
If organizations genuinely want to build the trust and credibility it takes to get employees engaged above and beyond their job descriptions, management needs to get a lot more clear and candid. So what does it take to have the “real deal” when it comes to organizational communication?
- Interaction – As I say every chance I get, if it isn’t two-way, it isn’t communication. It’s message distribution.
- Speed – Important information needs to be available instantaneously, not after it’s been polished for periodic publication weeks or months later.
- Availability – Other than proprietary formulas and human resource files, consider the simple policy for what information should be available to employees that was adopted by one Baldrige Award winning company – no secrets!
- Access – It’s not enough to “open the books” to employees. Making information available is useless if people have to jump through hoops to get it.
- Relevance – Dumping tons of information on people is almost as bad as hoarding it. Find out what people find relevant and valuable, and make sure that’s where you focus your communication efforts.
- Inclusion – Beware of leaving some people out of the loop of information that might make a difference in their knowledge and performance.
- Authenticity – First, last and always, avoid the temptation to sanitize and glamorize. Employees know the difference, and the way they respond to you and your customers will be a direct reflection – for better or for worse – of how sincere and authentic they think you are.