On January 9, 2007, Steve Jobs walked out onto the stage of the Macworld Convention. The subject of his presentation had been the talk of the media for weeks. Jobs, known for his surprise revelations around technology, had been leaking ideas for months. The general consensus was that he was going to reveal three new amazing technology devices from Apple: a new touch-screen mp3 player, a new internet device of some kind and a new phone. Until he reached into his pocket and pulled out the very first iPhone, no one had any idea that he would reveal all three ideas in one device. From that day on, the world of communications changed.
A couple decades ago, those of us in the business communication world used to have one driving statement that we used in teaching people to communicate more powerfully. It was simply, “You can never overcommunicate!” Today, I travel around the United States from company to company trying to convince leaders that this same idea is now total lunacy. The invention of the iPhone and similar devices has increased the amount of communication any one person receives exponentially . To be certain, it was not just the iPhone that brought about this change, there are hosts of new technology making your company and employees incredibly inefficient due to overcommunication.
Think about your email inbox. How many emails do you have to sift through every day? The overuse of email alone is enough to clog the productivity of any company. Texting is now a regular tool for business communication, especially with younger employees. Phones, meetings and any other face-to-face communication continue to be useful but are often poorly planned and ineffective. In-house IM systems are also becoming more prevalent, often just adding to the regular disruption and distraction without even having to leave your desk. And now, many software systems used for project tracking and accounting are offering communication as a part of their programming. All of this is available 24-hours a day through your pocket-sized device.
In addition to the chaos of various types of communication flooding into our busy days, different ages and personalities use the various forms according to their preferences. Older employees are more likely to pick up the phone or talk face-to-face. Younger employees lean toward written communication. We have all seen the new employee who will confront via email in a way they would never do in person, even though text-based communication is terrible for resolving conflict. And how many times has someone said, “I sent Joe an email”, even though you are waiting to get an answer from Joe as soon as possible.
All of these new forms of communication and personal preferences add up to one big mess when it comes to getting clear communication that gets work done. In my class, I do a simple exercise where I ask three-person teams to use verbal communication to put a simple Lego building together. Invariably, almost no one can do it. In fact, it is not uncommon for 45 minutes to pass without one single piece of the building built (the leader is in a different room and must pass the information through to the builder). This activity highlights in a very simple form the reality that we are losing money due to poor communication. It is not a lack of communication but miscommunication, poor communication practices, varying communication styles, overcommunication, and generally, no communication strategy, that plague the company.
When was the last time you did a real assessment of how communication is flowing in your organization? Do you have a comprehensive communication strategy for dealing with the overcommunication that is clogging our inboxes and distracting our employees? Too often, corporate leadership thinks about productivity only in the realm of hands-on operational plans. It is time to take a better look at the communications strategy of your company and make 21st century decisions about how to communicate better. It will pay great dividends.