Build a communication culture for better results

A communication culture fast-tracks change, growth and better outcomes. By focusing the business and leaders on communication, as a way of doing better business, organisations yield better results. Where organisations have succeeded in embedding communication in their culture, they see better outcomes in safety, innovation, change, cultural alignment and of course employee engagement.

Where communication is not embedded, businesses rely on Comms Teams or communication osmosis to reinforce strategy and culture.

The osmosis approach is unreliable as organisational commitment and leader capability to communicate always varies.

A lack of commitment to communicate costs a business more. Safety incidents, errors and customer dissatisfaction are clear examples resulting from misalignment with strategy, caused by poor communication or failure of leaders to listen.

Leaders and teams that prioritise communication deliver better outcomes. This makes sense. So, why don’t entire organisations adopt this approach? Communication often is not seen as a priority because it is seen as part of “roll out”…put at the end of the line. I say communication leaders need to be at the table, from the start, as part of the decision making process.

Give Communicators a seat at the table

Working for an Australian business, striving for greater safety, productivity and customer satisfaction, I delivered a communication capability plan to boost leader focus on communication and create a culture of communication in their blue collar operations.

They faced major public scrutiny and had to achieve significant adoption of change and automation to survive. They were fearful of public backlash, union protest and customer upset. All of which needed effective communication planning and competence beyond the responsibility of the Comms Team.

The approach placed communication leaders on steering groups and project teams. They were influential in decision making. This put communication at the start of the process and embedded it in strategic decisions. Communication expertise was at the table, form the start and worked directly with leaders to help them succeed. 

Communications advisers used data, evidence and influence to demonstrate the importance of communication in engaging stakeholders, building culture and delivering on the outcomes. Communication was positioned as a key enabler of success, recognised as being able to enlist meaningful stakeholder engagement (not just deliver traditional one way messaging). Leaders appreciated that communication was beneficial in advancing their goals and improving performance.

By focusing the Executive and middle management on effective communication the outcomes were positive and sustainable. Customer satisfaction increased. Union resistance was minimised. Employee engagement raised. A communication culture emerged in a newly automated business needing strong leader-employee relations.

What does a culture of communication look like?

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In my experience where organisations have made progress in making communication part of their culture, there are common traits. They see the importance of investment in communication capability as part of their overall strategy. This has come from the Communication Team influencing and demonstrating the importance of communication as an enabler of change and results. 

Traits of a business with a communications culture

Systems and channels            

  • Effective systems to enable one and two way communication internally and externally

  • Corporate channels based on the needs of the business

  • Relevant policies and procedures that enable communication, not block it (influence, not authority)

  • A dedicated and skilled Communication Team.

Capability                                   

  • Commitment to build the will and skill of leaders and teams to communicate (e.g. manager communication capability enhancement, activating SMEs as thought leaders internally and externally).

  • Proactively listening to stakeholders.

Performance                              

  • Continuously monitoring communication effectiveness

  • Seeking feedback to drive improvement beyond routine engagement surveys.

  • Leaders recognise that communication is part of their role.

Culture                                        

  • Communication is embedded in day to day operations

  • Communication is invested in and seen as an enabler of success

  • The business listens and acts on customer and employee insights

  • Leaders value communication advice and counsel. 

Communication Teams as enablers of success

The Communication Teams role is obviously critical to driving a culture of communication. The positioning of the team sets the scene for change. I believe Communication Teams need a specific focus and actions to help build a communication culture.

The Communication Teams commitment and energy alone is not enough. The Team need to position themselves as influencers or enablers of communication, not blockers. This requires an enabling mindset and strategy, effective positioning and team capability to enlist leader support. A fruitful relationship between the Executive Team and the Communications Team is a key ingredient to the change.

Communicators need to gain a mandate to influence corporate decisions.

Communication Teams need to mobilise towards this culture change including enlisting leader support. They need to demonstrate they are at least as adept at corporate planning and strategy implementation as other departments. If they can’t do this then they risk always being at the end of the line, not at the table where they belong

Paul Matthews

Communication leader and Coach with over 20 years experience. Specialising in developing and delivering communication strategies in large or complex organisations.