3 months Blog

Forget Data, Communication is the new Oil

For those who have attended any major technology conferences over the last few years, you will have been constantly reminded that data is the new oil. The thing that makes business go round. Well, I want to challenge that thought, at a time when even oil is not really oil, as we knew it, anymore – sparkling water is more expensive!

Now, I think that communication is probably the most vital it as ever been for all organisations. Never before have we had to adapt, at this velocity, in the way we engage our teams; never before have the words meant more about job security, working conditions & health (think Maslow) to so many, and never before have the words of our government been listened to on a daily basis, and then fed into the corporate narrative. And therefore, it is now time to focus on getting it right.

So let’s digest these individually.

Clarity is one of the hardest things to get right. 

The simplest way to look at it, is this: if you have to explain a joke, it’s not a good joke. Same with communication.

I had this article in mind two weeks ago, but it feels even more relevant today – on the back on the Prime Minister’ speech on Sunday, and subsequent press conference. The ambiguity, the confusion, the contradiction of the statements left many people bewildered. I have no doubt in my mind, that the intention was NOT to confuse. I suspect, with a dozen advisors, a last-minute deadline and a twist in the tail, nobody had time to sit in the seat of the listener. And that is key.

For any communication to work, you MUST sit in the seat of the “receiver”. Without their perspective, in any walk of life, if you confuse, you’ll mislead, and if they are misled, they’ll misbehave – not in a mischievous Dennis the Menace way – and just not deliver what is expected/required.

Applying it in your own business, how many times has someone delivered you the “wrong thing”?.

“That’s not what I asked for?” “Why didn’t you listen?

Well guess what folks, its probably you. I have spent a bit of time over the last few years, thinking hard about when people have said that to me or others around me. And the result.

It’s almost never the “receiver” at fault. It’s the “pitcher”. They didn’t really know what they wanted, then they couldn’t even articulate what they didn’t really want, and then they have not got what they “want”!…Ironic? Yes it is. Common? Yes it is. Fixable? Always.

There are many ways to be clear on your message. You need to really consider, at this time, how every key message is structured, considering the seat that your “receiver” will be sat in. I would personally start with simplicity and build out from there.

Honesty. This is an interesting one. More for effect in this article, but my sentiment rings true. People want to know what is going on and if they don’t believe you, they’ll fill in the gaps themselves. They’ll get it wrong more times than they’ll get it right, so you are just creating a lot of noise.

Imagine 10% of the “Teams” chatter every day, on your watch, with people filling in the gaps about whether or not they believe you?

It happens. The downside of a chatter platform is it becomes a gossip platform. Like wildfire, you’ll have the organisational terrorists, dropping the proverbial ignition all over the place. And at a time when you can’t physically see what’s going on, it’ll almost certainly take you longer to extinguish those flames.

It’s certainly not for me to judge the integrity of an organisation but be sure that your employees can. They will be much more appreciative of a short, concise, well thought-out and honest message, than a cumbersome narrative packed with “iffy, underwhelming” statements. 

I genuinely believe that most employees will forgive an honest mistake, but very few will forgive lies or deceit. At a time when your every word probably means more, be very conscious of the integrity of the message.

The cadence of communication is also vitally important.  By not outwardly communicating you are actually communicating loudly (just not in a good way). However, this is tough to balance. You can overwhelm your team with too much information, but you can certainly underwhelm them with not enough communication. I am a believer that good communication comes from the heart. The style, the format and the cadence will probably come from you as an individual, with guidance from above, as required.

From a personal perspective, I think small and often works best. And I also find that consistency is hugely important to most people.

Despite the disruption over the first few weeks of lockdown, and no doubt it will be similar as we head out of lockdown, people want to establish a new routine quickly. Its what humans have done for centuries. And therefore, your communication probably needs to map against that to be effective.

If you do an update every Monday – keep doing it. If you are off, do it the Friday before or on the Tuesday. The regularity of the information being received will be appreciated by many. And don’t be afraid to repeat key information more than once. With distractions aplenty with disparate working, then you need to hedge your bets a little and make sure it’s getting through. Remember, you don’t want the team filling in the blanks!

Now, I appreciate that communication is a huge topic and one that can be debated over for many hours, but I thought it worth dropping my own thoughts on this, as it’s a challenge I think about every day – even more so now. I am always open to mine getting better. It’s certainly a skill that is hard to master, but practice is the best way to get lucky!

Whilst I do think data is still vitally important for organisations, my message is that communication can sometimes not get the level of importance it should, and that, at this time in particular, could be a major mistake to make.


Stephen Johnson – Co-Founder and Director, ROQ


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