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Professional development: Communication still tops the list

Ryan Lisk is a partner at Lisk Associates, a business services firm in a Lexington, Ky.

By Ryan Lisk
For BG Lexington Magazine
A publication of The Lane Report

“Communication is the No. 1 issue in organizations today,” said Randy Lisk, my dad … IN 1995! I believe he got it from a USA Today article prior to that. No matter the year, this same issue is at the top of many organizational radar screens.

Since we started our business in 1991, no one has ever called us because they were trying to deal with an “over-communication” problem. The real issue regarding communication is one of two things: inadequate communication or miscommunication.

I want you to picture two different organizations, each with a different “communication” issue.

Organization #1 has complained of a culture of under-communication. Picture in your mind what its offices look like. What do the halls sound like? Look like? What do you hear the employees saying? What are meetings like? If you stuck a “trust-o-meter” into that type of organization, what reading would you get on a scale of 1-10? What level of accountability does this organization have?

I envision lots of excuses, “Well, nobody ever told me about that.” Or, “I never got that email.” I also envision employees always being the last to know.

What’s underlying the under-communication issue? Trust, hoarding of information and CYA.

Organization #2 has a culture of miscommunication. What do these offices look and sound like compared to Organization #1? What does listening look like in this organization? What about meetings in this culture?

I picture lots of buzz and “busy-ness.” In meetings, I see people on their laptops, phones and anything else that doesn’t involve the meeting – general multitasking and lack of focus.

Which company has the bigger problem? Why do you say that? You may have chosen one over the other because that’s the problem you’re dealing with right now! I can make a case for both being pretty bad. Which style are you personally accused of more often by your co-workers? How about by your significant other?

What can you do about it? I always like to give a couple of to-do’s you can use right now to help solve a communication problem. Here are three ideas:

1. Get hard data on the problem. If you choose to work on this issue, invest a little to get the hard data versus the soft data. It takes your bias out of the equation. Things like Best Places To Work or The Denison Culture Survey are good surveys we’ve used.

2. Hire people with the communication style you want. Nobody is perfect, but you can identify candidates’ communication styles by using a “personality assessment” along with your interviews and resumes to hire the type of natural communicator you want. For example, we use the Trimetrix® Personal Talent Report.

 3. Be an “employees first” manager. This is similar to Coach John Calipari’s philosophy of being a “players first” program, and I think that’s been working pretty well for him. Don’t get me wrong, in business, I am always customers first – so let’s call employees 1A. If you are an employees-first manager, that means you treat everyone firm and fair, but not the same.

There isn’t an off-the-shelf quick fix for communication problem. There’s no silver bullet. That’s why Dad’s quote from 17 years ago is still relevant today. Fixing these issues take time. You may think it’s silly, but your team will notice, and respect, you making an effort to improve communication.
Remember, Peter Ducker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” No matter what your strategy is, if your culture has a communication problem, you’ll be starving.

Ryan Lisk is a partner at Lisk Associates, a business services firm in a Lexington, Ky., that helps make people, teams and organizations more valuable. He may be reached at [email protected]