by Andrew Brown

Communications Can’t Solve All Your Sh*t

A dangerous assumption runs rampant in organizations – across all sizes and industries — it’s that employee communications cures practically everything. In reality, employee communications is not a cure all. And, while thinking it is will provide you with some temporary comfort, doing so eventually comes back to bite you squarely in the behind. The good news is that you can take steps to avoid falling into this insidious trap.

The grand expectations of communications

You’ve probably seen it in your organization: internal communications is expected to improve employee engagement and increase collaboration within, and between, teams. At the same time, far too many organizations have come to expect employee communications will solve a wide range of problems including improving operational efficiencies and getting difficult projects back on track. That’s a lot of responsibility for any one function to handle – particularly a function that often receives no or little budget.

The implications of thinking communications is a cure-all

Not surprisingly, communications departments are crushed by the heavy weight of responsibilities when they are expected to cure all ailments. And, when they can’t address issues that are largely out of their wheelhouse, the employee communications department eventually comes to be seen as a disappointment or worse, irrelevant. Meanwhile, other departments and/or influencers choose elements of communications to own whether or not they have the skills to execute them well.

What gives rise to communications being seen as a cure-all

So, why does this assumption take root in organizations? It’s largely an outcome of how employee communications positions are structured.

First, when employee communications  is delegated to a single person or team, the rest of the organization comes to think they’re largely absolved from taking part in, or owning the outcomes of, employee communications. This mindset of “Hey, they’ll take care of it” minimizes the involvement of leaders throughout an organization. Second, consider employee communications job descriptions. Most all of them, save for those at VP level, focus on skills for creating assets – often akin to ‘internal marketing’ rather than any kind of formal training or dexterity in understanding human behavior, adult education or group dynamics.

How to avoid thinking communications is a cure-all

While it takes time to eradicate the dangerous assumption from your organization, you can take concrete steps to reduce its hold on you:

Step 1: Don’t hire someone to own all things employee communications. Rather, hire people who can facilitate better employee communications within an organization.

Step 2: Budget for communications training. That includes training for skills such as active listening, storytelling, group facilitating, communicating change, and building empathy.

Step 3: Make sure that your employee communications person/department has responsibility for bringing about specific behaviours rather than just serving as a publisher or mouthpiece for leaders.

Step 4: Identify the specific metrics that will be used to measure behaviour change.

Step 5: Collect those measurements and review them regularly with leadership.

How to avoid thinking communications is a cure-all

Check out the Swear Jar podcast episode Communications Can’t Solve Your Sh*t for other insights and practical tips to ensure your organization doesn’t suffer the negative consequences caused by employee communications being thought of as cure-all.