Organisations are nothing without communication and relationships

Organisations can only exist when there is an active system of communication between parties that creates the scaffolding of relationship dynamics. Without communication and relationships, organisations are hollow, empty. And as much as good communication can do for an organisation, bad communication or the lack thereof can tear it down.

In times of crisis and major up upheaval like we are all currently experiencing– in families, businesses, communities, governments, economies and societies – the content, quality and frequency of communication is paramount to our survival, literally.

In particular, what we say as leaders, how we say it and how often we say it has a dramatic impact on people’s lives and livelihoods.

You only have to see the positive and devastatingly negative impacts to people and societies from the types of messaging and communication formats coming from the various political leaders around the world at present.

For instance, look at the types of COVID-19 messaging and communication formats used by the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern compared to Donald Trump and the subsequent COVID-19 health outcomes in each country. The differences are stark indeed.

So my question to all leaders is this:

What are you communicating, how is it being received – by your teams, your customers, your families, your suppliers, investors, your communities – and what are they doing with your message? Especially now…

Different types of messages

First we need to look at the different types of messages we need to communicate. It’s not a one size fits all. For instance, during COVID-19 we need to act on a whole range of messaging elements including:

  1. Crisis communication – What is our crisis plan? How are we going handle COVID-19 as a business, teams, work conditions, OH&S, supply chain, customers, etc.?
  2. Company direction, strategy and purpose – Is it business as usual, or are we changing direction?
  3. Work security for staff – Will we have jobs? Who will have jobs? How we will we be working? Who will we be supporting? How do we work together remotely? etc.
  4. Customer Care – What can our customers expect from us? How are we going to support them? How are we going to service them?
  5. Sales Strategy, Sales Messaging & Value Propositions – Are we still selling? What are we selling? Who are we selling to? What is our Value Proposition – Why us? How are we going to sell – remotely, in person, online?
  6. Investors & Shareholders– What are we telling the market?

These are just some of the stakeholders we need to have messages prepared for all the time, but especially during this crisis.

In normal times, but much more importantly, in times of deep distress, uncertainty, confusion and fear, it can been extremely difficult to communicate clearly in a manner that helps your stakeholders:

  • Come to grips with what is happening – put whatever is happening into perspective from their own perspectives i.e. how is this going to affect me – my job, my family, my income, my life, etc.
  • Feel safe – knowing there is someone and/or some support system that has my back
  • Know what to do moving forward – with the information I have, what decisions do I need to make? What can I do now, tomorrow, next week/month and beyond to secure my future?

Many leaders – political, business, community – have their communication skills and messages tested every day in many ways, especially right now.

Some are shining while others are crashing to the mat.

Examples of Poor Communication by Leaders

For instance, I heard the other day that the Australian division of an international company has only just made the decision to let people work from home on 25 March and the senior team are still meeting up face to face today. There was no message or anything from the CEO to their large team about what is happening on any level – people are having to piece it together themselves – disastrous. Some of their international teams have even been cut off from any communication as they don’t have laptops, and are now very scared about losing their jobs.

Examples of Great Communication by Leaders

Then there are the various state and national politicians who are doing their very best, in most cases, to come to grips with the massive amount of information and various systems that are ever changing in the face of COVID-19. It’s challenging and all-encompassing and some shine better than others. Take the Victorian Premier, Dan Andrews who’s been on the front foot from day one of this crisis and the bushfires before that. Here’s at least 10 things he’s been doing that we can all learn from:

  1. Acting early and getting ahead of the curve – out on the front foot
  2. Explaining what’s happening and what he and the government are doing about it – everyday
  3. Acknowledging and reassuring people that he understands their feelings of concern and distress and that he understand the need to give them information and answers now
  4. Being as transparent as possible and at the same time trying not to overwhelm people with too much information – upfront, candid, no political double speak
  5. Keeping people informed – updates everyday across multiple media channels
  6. Being decisive and informing people of those decisions and the consequences, good and bad for all concerned
  7. Communicating the messaging in simple, easy to understand formats
  8. Repeating the messages across all ranges of media and languages – not leaving anyone out
  9. Demonstrating calm, stable, empathetic, authentic and compassionate leadership and stewardship throughout
  10. Making sure he is supported by and leading a great team, deferring to the experts, and working in coordination with other leaders and jurisdictions in a bi-partisan manner

These are communication lessons for all of us in leadership roles. In the current climate, I am seeing this type of communication and leadership excellence coming from all manner of organisations including the Principal of our Melbourne Montessori School, our swim squad board, our hockey club board, our business landlord, and so on. This is not just the domain of our political and corporate leaders, it is the duty of all leaders in whatever area in life to communicate with clarity, purpose, honesty and compassion. This has the ability to save lives and livelihoods.

Communicating effectively under pressure to preserve and evolve human relationships is the ultimate test of true leadership and stewardship.

How remote working is affecting leadership communication and relationships

Finally, here are some interesting initial side effects on how remote working is affecting leadership communication and relationships.

Walking the floor

One of the biggest adjustments many business leaders (and team members) have to work with now is the lack of spontaneous catch ups with people while walking through the office. Walking the floor provides opportunity to have a sense of how their teams are doing and feeling, and that is very difficult to replicate when working remotely no matter how good you are as a leader. This level of communication and relationship building has disappeared for now.

Video Conferencing – the Communication Leveller

One interesting side effect of remote working has seen the introduction of video conferencing and the equalising effect it’s having on people’s roles and status. A number of senior HR professionals are reporting that due to video conferencing there are now no power tools – e.g. No shutting the door, no dressing in expensive suits, no corner offices or strategic seating arrangements/proximity to influencers, certain people can use to assert their power over others. Now we have a levelling of the hierarchical playing field which is certainly taking some people way out of their comfort zone.

In summary, without the system of communication and relationships, organisations cease to exist. They become hollow buildings, nothing more.

For help on how to communicate better with your team, clients and other stakeholders, call us on 03 9533 0000 or email

Remember, everybody lives by selling something.

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