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How Well Does Your Organization Communicate?


Jacob M Engel

Author and CEO of The Prosperous Leader.

I help CEOs and their organizations prosper.

My mentor taught me a model called the 6 Cs of Communication, which helps companies identify where they are in terms of effectiveness at running their organization. They are:

Level 1: Conflict and Competition = Failure

Level 2: Compliance and Communication = Success

Level 3: Cooperation and Collaboration = Prosperity

Conflict And Competition

If there is continuous conflict (e.g., finger-pointing, blaming) and competition (e.g., the right hand doesn’t let the left hand know what it’s doing) in an organization, it's the sign of a major communication failure.

Here is a story to illustrate.

Ed (not his real name) was a third-generation business owner enthusiastic about bringing his kids into the business (a topic that deserves an article all of its own!). The business decided to branch into a related product line and open a facility that Ed's son was assigned to run. But the challenge was, since he wasn’t really trained nor did he have the expertise, that it was never really clear how the son was supposed to do his job.

What unfortunately many leaders impart is what we call “sink or swim." This means Ed's son was supposed to figure it out on his own and either be successful or not. He only got lip service from the parent company as to what their expectations were, but no real training, coaching or collaboration.

There were often times when they were competing in the same business. When serious problems started coming to the surface, it became a blame game. The parent company was blaming him for not achieving and he would blame them for no guidance. Eventually, the facility failed a crucial state test and they had to shut it down and take a serious loss.

Ironically, leadership will continuously blame others with all kinds of excuses rather than take responsibility. But, remember when you point a finger at someone, three fingers point back at you. Continuous finger pointing is a sign of dysfunction.

Companies that continue in this direction will inevitably fail for several reasons.

First, their people — especially the good ones — will leave. And because there is little to no communication, they won't even share their reasons for doing so.

Next, customers will pick up on the mixed messages and apparent internal conflicts, which will cause them to become frustrated and think poorly of the company.

Vendors will also pick up on these conflicts and lose trust with the company.

Beware of the finger-pointing blame game, as this is the beginning of the end.

Compliance And Communication

At Level 2, companies practice open communication and compliance.

Transparency and accountability are two important signs of success. Everyone should know what’s going on in the company, there should be no behind-the-back conversations, and people should feel open to communicate with one another. If people know exactly what’s demanded from them in terms of roles and goals, and they have clear key performance indicators (KPIs) measured on a continuous basis, communication is considered to be successful. An example might be clear, agreed-upon goals on, say, increased sales revenues or increased net profit.

People feel psychologically safe when communications are open and honest. Today, millennials and really all employees want to feel that they are in an environment that values respectful and honest communication. If they feel that leadership and management are not being transparent or accountable for their actions, they will feel frustrated and eventually leave.

But remember, it’s not only that you talk the talk; you need to walk the talk. Having great slogans on the walls or even a mission statement that isn't followed and practiced will create distrust and even dishonest practices. (If you’re not following what you say, why should they?)

Cooperation And Collaboration

To achieve prosperity, the highest level, an organization must have a culture of cooperation and collaboration. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey calls this synergy.

Synergy means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When there is collaboration and cooperation, people value each other and the different strengths they each bring to the table — their differences. It shows that, as a team, they accomplish much more than they do as individuals.

When people are motivated and expressing synergistic thoughts and ideas, companies achieve greater results. Covey also calls this "The Third Alternative." It’s not your way or my way, but a third way — a better way. In many organizations, it’s also referred to as the obligation to dissent.

In my book, The Prosperous Leader, I shared a great example of collaboration and how it works. My wife and I traveled to Montreal for a family wedding and stayed in a very nice hotel. Upon check-in, the receptionist asked my wife and me if we wanted Wi-Fi access. She then offered to hook up our phones and put in the password herself while we were checking in.

Cooperation would have been if she just gave us the Wi-FI code and made sure it worked. Collaboration is offering to do it for someone.

The late Herb Kelleher founded Southwest Airlines on this principle. He challenged his people to go beyond the usual expectations, and in return, people would remain faithful and loyal. That is collaboration at it’s best. I love his many quotes, but this is my favorite: “I tell my employees that we're in the service business, and it's incidental that we fly airplanes."

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