Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Is Communication the Bottleneck in Decision Making

The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said.”   -Peter Drucker

Communication is KEY to modern management, however, communication is not just the soft discipline, it’s both art and science. For example, there’re communication challenges between management and employees, there’s “lost in translation” in cross-functional conversations, how to overcome such challenges? 

Is communication the bottleneck in decision making, how to achieve the expected outcome?  Understanding the logic behind these inquiries can untie the communication knots.

1. What are the challenges in communicating individual employee responsibilities and ensuring that the responsibilities are understood?

  • From top-down perspective: In many organizations, typically, one level of leadership communicates with the next level and so on and typically the message is somewhat diluted by the time it reaches the employee responsible for doing their job. Thus, employees do not understand their goals in a way that shows how they work with other employees’ goals and the strategic goals of their organization. The "so what" factor can be huge. 
  • From bottom-up perspective: Most often, you may not be able to accurately define the responsibilities, often your boss's goals get cascaded to you in a more detailed & quantifiable form. Add some administrative goals and team's projects, but communication often does not happen to all from one. But it happens often on one to one. If one can match the task assigned to the right person, very little communication is required. People understand responsibilities very well. 
  • The inferred questions: Does the building of the shared goals happen at the leadership level or does it go deeper into the organization? If it is at the leadership level then what is the mechanism for communicating these shared goals (through meetings, memos, documentation, etc.)? 

2. How do CIOs Overcome Communication Challenges?

  • Setting the right vision and goals: The CIO’s in coordination with stakeholders and the team to set the right vision and goals in line with core values, use leadership to keep that in the minds of the team, and then use management techniques to measure and adjust performance. Take advantage of the new technology tools such as workforce analytics, collaboration platforms; optimize business processes, streamline communication and delivery to simplify the message so that the diffusion rate is high. Build feedback mechanisms, share success story cross-functional border, and establish governance processes to manage the strategy execution.
  • Communication effectiveness: For communicating shared goals, effective communicators are working to spread that throughout the organization in a diverse set of activities with mixed communication styles. Technically, communication can be broadly categorized into technology-based communication and communication based on direct human contact. Is there a preference for one over the other or is it better to have a combination of both? If it is a combination,  are there any special steps that need to be taken to ensure consistency in message delivery.

3. How important is it to Identify Decision Bottlenecks?

Many times responsibilities/goals are communicated but the decision makers (in the case of conflicts) are not clearly identified and even when they are clear. There tend to be definitely perceivable choke points due to the inadequate delegation. Is it possible to identify the choke points when the responsibilities are being created? 

  • Decision bottlenecks are related to governance and other management systems. Decision making often lies in informal and closed group power centers within the organization. If you can understand the culture along with the organizational chart, you would often know which lever to use to get the decision approval done. Most decisions if not all are based on personal perceptions of management (which is often true with gained experience) and not all can be challenged with data analysis and risk/issues matrices. 
  • Besides miscommunication, there are relevant issues about culture, process, etc: There are layers of responsibilities on the employee. Sometimes it is very difficult on the employees to understand what they are expected to do due to cultural inertia or process ambiguity. Lack of clarity in decision makers or decision bottlenecks only adds to their frustration.
  • Do some systematic analysis in order to create more updated processes to smoothie the decision-making scenario. It might need to first categorize what kind of bottlenecks existing, the hard one like out of the dated process, procedure, practice or soft ones like culture, politics or leadership style, etc. Traditional annual performance review or HR mechanism may also need to be well tuned to adapt to the increasingly changing environment, understand employees' career goals and how to align it with their responsibilities, to manage win-win situation, How to communicate it with iterative and interactive way, and how to measure those goals effectively?., etc.      

4. How to Achieve the Desired Outcomes?

The clarity in desired outcomes has several tangible and intangible benefits that are often overlooked. A clear message and the opportunity to provide feedback is something that every employee appreciates and responds to.
  • Tell-Listen-Adapt communication framework. If you start with an inter-dependency of shared goals that directly related to creating value for an organization, you have a great foundation for then working on the process of how to make those goals a reality.
  • A Written Statement: how many organizations do not have a clear written statement of the desired outcome they want to be the result of what is to be done and ensuring that the statement is shared and understood by the workforce.
  • SMART Goal (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-sensitive): Most of the executives' performance goals are also goals of subordinate leaders and these all link to business strategic plans.
In summary: how to communicate just RIGHT is really critical for business. Communication content (what's your message), communication context (what will indicate to a different audience) and communication style (one to all, one to one., etc, direct vs. indirect., etc), it takes empathy, also needs scientific analysis. Communication effectiveness is one of the key factors in the effectiveness of decision-making


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