…Change the Culture!
I recently attended a lecture that carried the above title and was intrigued by the ensuing discussion around how effective communications can literally change the course of an organization based on the narrative used to inspire it. In my mind, effective communication is the number one leadership challenge in business (for-profit and non-profit) today supported by an abundance of real-world examples, surveys and professional articles. Most surveys I’ve read on this topic not only identify the issue, but also identify leadership’s own poor attempts to improve communications within their organizations. It is this challenge to improve what is a well-known issue that highlights this leadership discussion.
Effective communication is defined as the ability of the sender and the receiver to understand the message in the same context. This implies using clarity in the message itself, choosing the most effective and efficient media to transmit the message and using an effective feedback channel to ensure collective meaning. It all really begins with the clarity of the message itself.
Clarity can be a confusing concept as different people have their own views of how to communicate clearly. An engineer or accountant’s view of clarity might involve a heavy dose of facts and figures to clearly identify the core logical message. An artist or designer’s view of clarity might involve and heavy dose of flowery and descriptive language to identify the core emotional message. In both cases, the senders are convicted to the clarity of their message. In both cases, some of the receivers have no idea what the core message is!
The solution is the same in both examples. In both examples, the messages come out as information without the full context behind the meaning of the message. When speakers wrap a narrative around their facts and figures and/or their emotive words, the receiver is now able to paint the right picture in the minds of their audience. This is crucial to clarity because while we hear words, we think in pictures. If a leader wants their narrative to have full effect and meaning to their teams, they must tell the story in a way that ensures the picture is one the leader intends.
How does this then impact culture? Culture is the collective beliefs, attitudes, behaviors and norms of the organization. Organizational cultures happen regardless of what the leader does. The real question is whether the culture is one they need to sustainably grow the organization. When a leader determines the culture of the organization needs to change to meet evolving business needs (which is always!), they must first look at their own narrative. What are they communicating, both verbally and non-verbally? Are the non-verbal communications aligned and consistent with the verbal communications? What behaviors does the leader expect the team to execute as a result of the leader’s narrative?
The leadership challenge is clear. A constantly changing environment means a constantly evolving narrative on why the organization must do what it needs to do to achieve sustainable success!
What pictures are your followers envisioning from your leadership narrative?