The Value of Communication

I love hearing from Steve Browne. We follow each other on Twitter and Facebook, I’m on his HR Net list and I also get his occasional HR Round Table updates. All these different connections allow dialogue at different levels. Earlier this week I received the latest HR Round Table from Steve, which is all about communication. As always Steve encouraged me to share what I read with you, so I’d like to do just that. At first I began to edit Steve’s notes until I realised they have a flow to them, and the more I tried to edit, the clunkier the flow became. So – I stopped editing in favour of sharing the whole piece. I really enjoyed reading this and I hope there’s something in here for you too.

The Value of Communication 

The group discussed three things:

1)    What are the common obstacles and excuses regarding communication in companies?

2)    How do we value/elevate communication throughout our organisations?

3)    Why should we do this?

What are the common obstacles and excuses regarding communication in companies?

  • We’re too busy

This answer came so fast that it nearly bowled Steve over.  The “too busy” mantra is honestly like a plague.  You can’t quantify it and people can make themselves busy doing just about anything.  Busyness is a crutch that needs to be eliminated !!

  • Poor timing

Timing is a critical factor to effective communication.  Some people blurt things out just to make sure they’re heard.  They don’t consider the art of timing something so that it actually gets through to others and sticks.  Make sure to take note of this.  Timing is something that has to be practiced to be effective as well.

  • I only talk to people that “matter”

This is so self-centred it drips with ickiness !!  Steve shared a story that he loves to hear when vendors say, “I’d like to talk to the ‘decision maker’, “and Steve responds, “I just did.”   ALL people matter in an organisation.  If you try this kind of creepy approach, you need to be called on it because it’s unnecessary self-righteousness that has no place in a company’s culture.

  • People are intimidated

I love when Sr. Managers say that they don’t intimidate people.  You may think that, but people truly may be anxious to talk with others in the organisation if they work in different levels of the company.  Don’t blow this off or tell people that you’re accessible.  If you have to explain it – you aren’t.  Show that you are accessible through your behaviour and you’ll see communication channels open up more readily.

  • Technology

Now, don’t jump ahead on this.  The comment wasn’t for/against technology.  The fact is that you can communicate just as poorly using technology as you can in person.  Be aware of this and show people how to easily utilise technology forums vs. being critical and saying that people don’t “get it.”

  • Silos

Ah, the dreaded silo.  It permeates every organisation and is a true boulder when it comes to communication.  A silo may think communication is going great within its own confines, but it rarely gets outside of its own domain.

  • Insincerity

Wow !!  This was great to hear because too often throughout organisations you’ll hear catch phrase after catch phrase to make sure you’re saying what you’re supposed to say without communicating at all.  When people aren’t genuine, communication has no chance to be effective.

  • Cultural Differences

This is a reality and shouldn’t be an obstacle.  HR has to really push through on this to show the value of our differences as people instead of letting cultures, backgrounds, gender, etc. become a hindrance.  Note that this ISN’T a program !!  It’s how your company culture should be naturally !!

  • Too much noise

This item has much more credence than being too busy.  We are bombarded by constant stimuli and messaging from a myriad of sources all day.  This isn’t a work issue. It’s a life issue.  It’s hard to discern and cut through the noise to pay attention to messages that really need to be heard and acted upon.

How do we value/elevate communication throughout our organisations?

  • Tell people your processes

We need to quit thinking that people are just going to “get it” when it comes to communication throughout an organisation. Taking the time to explain how to communicate, who to get information to, and when to do it would make you more progressive than 99% of all companies out there.  Anytime we can give people clarity on how communication works in your company will only lead to stronger and more long lasting results.

  • Set the table

This is a true opportunity area for HR !!  Define how communication brings things together in your organisation and weave it through your culture.  Great communication should be the norm and not the exception.  However, the environment to do so needs to be intentionally established.  Attack the assumed culture in your company and make it open.

  • Go to people instead of having them come to you

Radical isn’t it?  Sitting and waiting for communication to appear never works.  It never has.  By being the person who initiates communication, you can get things moving.  This also addresses communication avoidance in your company.  Be the person who steps into the gap to make communication happen.  Quit waiting !!

  • Focus on relationships vs. drive by’s

When you truly foster relationships, communication becomes more clear because people get to know each other.  Too often, we shoot messages at each other just to get them out.  Yes, this takes time, but it’s time that is well worth the investment.

  • Leadership sets the tone

Here is one instance where Sr. Management leading the way is essential.  They can make communication valued by their actions and expectations.  In fact, if they choose not to do this, then poor communication is sure to be the model the company suffers through.  HR can lead in this as well by coaching Sr. Management on the value of making communication shine.  It’s a great way to be strategic !!

  • Don’t be dull

It’s amazing that this is so challenging for people.  Seriously, have YOU read what you write? We think that being engaging and entertaining in corporate communication is unnecessary and a waste of time.  The opposite is actually true.  Most communication in companies goes unheeded or unread. So, why follow the norm of the boring memo or the e-mail limited to 10 words or less?  This doesn’t mean to write novels to express yourself.  It means be creative.  Draw people in to get your message across.  It works !!

Why should we do this?

This should have been the first question.  You see, most companies follow the model of: What, How and Why (in that order).  We focus on the “what” and it is a vicious cul-de-sac of endless and useless communication.

We don’t focus on the “why” of communication, or many things in our companies honestly.  Steve referenced a TED talk by Simon Sinek here that shows you that companies who focus on their “why” are more successful in all they do.

The answer in this section needs to go back to your company because each culture and environment is different.  You need to step up, be intentional and take the steps to make communication valued in your company!!

It Started in Ohio

I love my conference trips to the USA. The chance to meet people who I’ve come to know via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram et al is just too good an opportunity to miss.

Ohio is holding its 41st annual state HR conference this week, and though I can’t be there in the flesh this time, I’m there in spirit. Despite United Airline’s best attempts to foil my plans, my USA conference adventures started in Ohio last year, and so it’s a special place for me.

It was in Ohio I first met:

Steve, Jason, Joe, Fred, Erin, Karen, Heather, Dwane, Jennifer, Julie, Mary, Nicole, Ashley, Desiree, Amy and many others too.

And on it goes.

It was in Louisiana I first met:

Bryan, William (king of cupcakes), Robin, Douglas, Christine, Dominique, Crystal, Dwane (no hang on, that was Ohio – and yes, I met him here too), Nisha, Brad, Janine, Sarah, Broc and Cheryl and many others too.

And on it goes.

It was in Illinois I first met:

John, Sabrina, Susan (well OK I first had lunch with these three fine people in Chicago earlier in the year – but you get the point), John (songs about trains are the best!), Abe, Brew, Dave, Paul, Daniel, Dwane (are we following each other around or what?!), Cathy, Kris, Crystal (again – yay!), Maren and Donna and many others too.

And on it goes. Where it stops, nobody knows.

It takes effort to make and build connections and relationships, and it is truly worth it. I learn from these people, enjoy their company, share…you know how it is. Grateful to know you all, and apologies to anyone I’ve forgotten to mention by name.

Connections give us meaning.

Without People, You’re Nothing.

Steve Browne sent out his HRNet email recently with some HR adapted lyrics to London Calling. I’ve murdered them here and added a wee bit more too.

Photo credit: Steve Browne

Nobody Said It Was Easy

I wrote this post as part of Alison Chisnell‘s excellent advent blog series. I expect a lot of you have read it already, and the main reason I am reposting it is simply so that I have a record of it here, under my roof as well as Alison’s.

2012 started in a burst of optimism. I’d set a goal of winning and delivering more ambitious, stretching work projects and I was hoping to forge some new associations to help make this goal a reality. Two really interesting ideas were taking shape, the first a piece of business development and marketing work, the second a project around smart use of social media to drive more colleague and customer collaboration. We had also lined up an Unchristmas lunch for a few people who had supported the business over the past year or so.

The lunch was on a Friday. It was great fun catching up with a lovely group of people and then heading off to enjoy the weekend. From my experiences lots of offices are empty on a Friday as a slew of people choose to ‘work from home’ (don’t worry – I won’t tell). For me, Friday is a good day to strengthen the social fabric that is woven throughout a great place to work; I’d like to see more people lunching together more often.

I digress.

Time Stands Still

“Summer’s going fast, Nights growing colder
Children growing up, Old friends growing older
Experience slips away”

It is late Sunday afternoon on January 22nd 2012 and my phone rings. One of my Sisters wants to know if I’ve heard from Dad, ‘he was due to pop round and he hasn’t showed’. Carole, Keira and I were just diving into a local restaurant for a family meal and I said I’d call him and check in afterwards. As we left the restaurant the phone rang again. This time it was my Brother in law, Steve. ‘Doug, I’m at your Dad’s place, sorry to have to tell you he is dead’.

Suddenly you were gone.

I took Carole and Keira home and headed off. The police came round to Dad’s to satisfy themselves there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding his death and then left. I encouraged Steve to head on home to be with his family and I waited for the coroner’s ambulance to come and take Dad’s body away. That was a weird few hours sitting in an empty old house, listening to it move and sigh like an old building does.

Prime Mover

“From the point of conception, To the moment of truth
At the point of surrender, To the burden of proof
From the point of ignition, To the final drive
The point of the journey is not to arrive
Anything can happen…”

Functions sometimes get in the way of feelings, and so it was as funeral and other plans were made. Dad died intestate, so I steeled myself for the mountain of paperwork that began to accumulate. The family and friends supported each other well through this time, and I had given my commitment to Dad that I would take responsibility for his affairs. This period of time was tough, I found it almost impossible to keep the business going and take care of family business to the point where I suffered a bizarre physical breakdown. My right knee stiffened and blew up like a balloon. My right arm and chest ached like I’d never felt before and for a few weeks I could barely get about. I was scared.

My physical condition was temporary and things began to improve. Through this time I took support and encouragement from many people and places. Most people aren’t aware of how important they became to me, and I want to recall one incident in particular that helped enormously.

Vital Signs

“Leave out the fiction, The fact is, this friction
Will only be worn by persistence
Leave out conditions, Courageous convictions
Will drag the dream into existence”

In November of 2011 Dad and I had talked about what the future may hold for the business. I told Dad I planned to go to America. I said I didn’t know where, to do what or how, I just knew I would.  Dad replied, ‘Go ahead and make me proud’. In March 2012 Steve Browne and I exchanged correspondence and a couple of months later I was booked to travel to Ohio for the annual state HR conference. This was pivotal for me in turning the sadness at the loss of my father into an opportunity to honour the simple exchange we had towards the end of the previous year. It also helped me get the flywheel of What Goes Around turning again.

The Big Wheel

“Wheel goes round, landing on a leap of fate
Life redirected in ways unexpected
Sometimes the odd number wins
The way the big wheel spins”

A business needs wheels to turn on. I used to think they were a little like bicycle wheels, spinning along the flat, whizzing down the hills and pushing up the other side. And they are not. The truth is that when you stop turning the business wheel, it loses momentum really quickly. And to get it started you have to put your shoulder to it and push, hard. And you need to keep going, persist, believe, persist, believe, persist. If you have the courage of your convictions, if you love people, and love who you are and why you do what you do, and if you can find a Steve Browne, you can choose to keep the big wheel turning.


“You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose freewill”

I choose for 2013 to be a year of useful fun and support for one another when things don’t go quite according to plan. I hope we can continue to create opportunities to better ourselves and each other, and to continue to raise a well-intended challenge when we see something ain’t going quite right. Proceed until apprehended.


Alison Chisnell – for the kind invitation to write this post.

Steve Browne (aka The President of the United States of HR) – for helping me make something magnificent happen

Neil Peart – for lyrical support

Paul Shaw – for being my Dad and for showing me, through example, that it is better to be a critical friend than to strive to be liked.