A View from Blue Grotto

Monday, May 21, 2007

Music to my ears

“What is corporate culture, and why is communicating clearly and precisely about it important?” Music to my ears. And I found it two thirds of the way into John Hamm’s article The Five Messages Leaders Must Manage (Harvard Business Review May, 2006). Hamm begins his article with the premise that words can speak louder than actions for leaders of organizations. Think of all the clichéd phrases you’ve heard uttered over the years – at staff meetings, at annual meetings, you may read them in the company news letter. Usually intended to inspire you to perform better, these “messages” can send unclear, even confusing, messages to your employees, your shareholders and eventually your customers.

Hamm outlines five areas his research defined as posing the greatest risk from vague communications, but also the greatest opportunity for influence:
* Organizational Structure and Hierarchy – because it represents individual power and influence, it can be an emotionally-charged subject.
* Financial Results – leaders have the opportunity to communicate the connection of employee behaviors to the organization’s long-term desired results.
* The Leader’s Sense of His or Her Job – how a leader defines their role in an organization can propel a direct report forward, or hold them back indefinitely.
* Time Management – leaders have a responsibility to communicate priorities, understanding there are only so many hours in a day.
* Corporate Culture – leaders who are best able to communicate their vision for the future, are the most likely to lead success.

I have referenced corporate culture in several past blogs. A company’s culture is the reflection on its mission and values – the best practices under which it operates. As Mr. Hamm says, “Culture is not created by declaration.” And, true to Mr. Hamm’s research, leaders in any organization – Fortune 500, family business, to nonprofit – are the chief purveyors of that mission and values.

Now, think back to the original premise of Mr. Hamm’s article – managing key messages. Think of the messages you send about your company’s culture. Are you puffing up your communications with superfluous clichés about “making a team effort,” or “we value our employees,” when you could be giving clear statements to employees about the expectations of your organization’s culture and their own role in it? Consider how to de-clutter your communications, and focus on clear direction that actually helps your employees do their jobs more efficiently, more effectively and more successfully.

Email me with your strategies for avoiding imprecise communications. Mental note to self – if it sounds like a cliché, it probably is.

John Hamm’s full article can be found in the May 2006 Harvard Business Review. You can also email him at: johnhamm@mac.com for more information.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.