Showing all pages regarding communication.

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.

Networks are no substitute for friendships


I have been thinking a lot about networking recently. Having just established my business, moved house, joined the local choir; it seems to be something that I am involved in almost every day. I am convinced that networking is an important part of doing business. It is one of the best forms of marketing, finding new business and developing useful contacts. Furthermore if, like me, you do a lot of work on your own and are a bit of an extrovert, then getting out to meet others at least twice a week is a must if you want to preserve your sanity. I have recently joined my local branch of the London Chamber of Commerce. The person who suggested this to me (also a self employed consultant) said ‘I don’t think I have ever got any business through the Chamber but the support network they offer has been invaluable’. And we all need support at some time in our lives.

But let’s not get these networks confused with true friendship – there is a world of difference between the two and one cannot replace the other. Online networking and social media, while offering so many benefits, can also encourage people to isolate themselves and hide behind the convenient impersonality of email, ‘Facebook’ etc. I am amazed at those who profess to have over 500 connections or ‘friends’ online (do they really know this many people?). Of these friends, how many can really be called on for support? How many will pop round for a drink and a chat when you fancy some company or need cheering up?  Without these ‘true’ friends there is only loneliness. It is interesting that, despite the increasing range of opportunities available for connecting with others, the instances in society of depression (where loneliness is often the root cause) appear to be growing.

In my view the reason for our obsession with casual networks and the apparent over-reliance on virtual networking is because enduring friendships take time to build and face to face communication is difficult. Talking openly and putting effort into more intimate relationships can make us feel exposed and vulnerable – most would rather avoid these feelings.  However,  we need, at some point and in certain contexts, to be able to communicate at a human level and to talk about what is important to us. Even at work there is a place for and value in friendships that go deeper than other business relationships. Networking can be enjoyable and has its advantages. But true friendships are built with different skills and bring entirely different rewards.

Failure to manage change increases stress, absence levels and conflict at work

Resistance to change is a human response caused, in the main, by fear. To many, change represents uncertainty, insecurity and the unwelcome prospect of new situations which are likely to require extra effort and adjustment. We fear the unknown and are reluctant to step outside of our comfort zones.

This is particularly true where change is initiated by someone else – we are even less likely to welcome change that we don’t support and that is not within our control. This human reaction to change is typically overlooked in business when the main preoccupation tends to be with operations, processes and systems. While many managers acknowledge the need to keep people involved and informed during periods of transition, most would also agree that, when the pressure is on, people issues tend to get overlooked – there are too many other things happening. As a consequence, staff end up feeling more anxious, uncertain and neglected. Resentment and hostility builds which translates into increased incidents of workplace stress, absence from work and internal conflict. All of this is not only damaging and costly for the business, but also decreases the chances of achieving the changes envisaged.

A well planned, effectively managed communication and engagement strategy is fundamental to any change programme. Such a strategy will not only help to avoid the internal problems of conflict, absenteeism and stress but can also have a positive effect on the business.

Through the process it is likely that “champions” for change will emerge who can provide a positive input and encourage others to get behind the project. New ideas which contribute to the success of change are more likely to emerge when staff are engaged and motivated to support the process. It is not unusual for hidden talents and abilities to materialise during well managed change programmes, making it a fantastic opportunity to get the very best results from your existing team.

Latest posts from my blog