It’s Good to Talk

Recently I completed a project for a highly respected financial company, renowned for its innovative approaches to staff development, engagement and communication.    The company had made a significant investment in a new project which involved some risk and uncertainty but was nevertheless considered essential for the company’s survival in a competitive market.  When I became involved the project was faltering.  Unease was growing about the likelihood of achieving success or, at least, of making any return on the investment to date.  On the surface there were a number of explanations for the anxieties.   Staff changes in key areas had led to some lack of continuity, feedback from some of the first trials had not been entirely positive, and there was a realisation that more investment would be required to achieve the original vision.   With no prospect of income from the project in the short term, there was a fear that the company had bitten off more than it could chew.

My task was to get the project back on track with a plan for the short and long term and recommendations for addressing the financial concerns.  This is the sort of challenge I love!   It involves elements of change management, strategic review, market analysis and financial planning and all of those issues came into play here.   However, looking back on my experience as a consultant for this company, I am convinced that the most important success factor in this project was in fact communication.   As I began to understand the context and to unearth some of the underlying issues affecting the project’s progress, it became clear to me that the expertise, the ideas, the information required to get things moving were right there in the company.   But communication had broken down, information was not being shared, grievances were being allowed to fester and confidence was fading.   I am not blaming the company for this – even the best organisations find that, in some situations, established practices for ensuring good communication just don’t work.  In these circumstances it sometimes helps to bring in an ‘outsider’ to find out what’s going on, get people round the table and encourage them to start talking again.  In this project I didn’t need to provide all the answers, the people I spoke to had a good idea of what had to be done.  All I did was to listen to views and ideas, co-ordinate the required actions and provide a structure and a plan for the way forward.   The result was a more energised, optimistic team with a clear understanding of what was going to happen over the next 2-3 years.  The vision was once again achievable.

Good communication is undeniably important in business.  It sounds so elementary, I wonder why so many organisation still fail to get it right.  If my experience with a company that knows how to do things well is anything to go by, I fear for the others.

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