Wednesday, April 20, 2011

5 Toxic Myths about Internal Communication That Can Destroy a Leader's Reputation

Remember "Mr. Montgomery Burns," Homer's boss (from The Simpsons)? He was a satirical sketchup of a callous corporate boss, with an "unquenchable desire to increase his own wealth and power," and a striking lack of caring about his own employees.

Wikipedia elaborates further on the fictionalized character's attitude toward his staff:
"He is a his...inability to remember his employees' names — including Homer's, despite frequent interactions...and lack of concern for their safety and well-being."
Speaking from the perspective of someone who has worked in, consulted to, researched and presented on internal communications for the past ten years, evil intentions aren't why internal communications goes wrong.

Actually, most leaders care a lot about what their employees think.

  • In the best case that's because they care about the mission being accomplished, and they understand that only the employees can do that.
  • In the worst case, they have a narcissistic need for adoration.
Either way, if you can forgive the double negative, "they don't not care."

Yet the way things stand today, in my observation, there are a lot of "thought filters" between a leader's desire to communicate and the resulting internal communication. The failure of these filters leads to poor communication and poor perceptions of leadership.

Here are just a few:
  1. The incorrect perception that "internal communication can wait"
  2. because "I have to focus on achieving results" ("results" being satisfying the pressure from stakeholders to handle an endless series of unpredictable crises)
  3. The incorrect perception that "internal communication requires no special skill other than to say what we want to say" because employees "have to listen...they need the job"
  4. The incorrect perception that external stakeholder communication requires more funding and staffing than internal communications
  5. The incorrect perception that "internal communication has no ROI (return on investment)" because "it can't really be measured"
  6. The incorrect perception that "internal communication is a girl's job (women's job)" and therefore worthless versus "real work"
Bad internal communication matters a lot more today than it did in the past. Two words:

Social Media

Bottom line: If you don't communicate well with your employees, they will communicate about that to the world.

Smart organizations don't allow their leaders to end up looking like Mr. Burns.