Real-Life, Real-Time Communication: More Than a Function, It's the Central Nervous System of Your Organization

By Landes, Les | Communication World, December 2001 | Go to article overview
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Real-Life, Real-Time Communication: More Than a Function, It's the Central Nervous System of Your Organization


Landes, Les, Communication World


Let's face it. In today's complex, fast-paced organizations, communication is just too important to be left in the hands of communication professionals. Communication is not a function anymore--if it ever were. It's the central nervous system of the organization, and the ones that perform best are those that successfully link everyone into a real-time, interactive network for sharing information and knowledge.

Take a look at what is happening with knowledge management--one of the hottest communication crazes to grip the corporate world in recent years. As with many fads from the past, the premise underlying knowledge management is highly relevant. We do need more robust systems to ensure the optimal sharing of data, information and knowledge in organizations. Problem is, the message is getting lost in the spectacle and "programitis" that often accompany the typical management movement. As a result, the imperative for better knowledge sharing is not being translated into basic operating systems that can get woven into the elemental fabric of most organizations. In the end, knowledge management will surely wind up as bleached bones in the desert of management movements that have come and crumbled along the way.

STARING ORGANIZATIONAL COMMUNICATION IN THE FACE

What does it take to make the switch from program to process, from spectacle to system? In the case of communication, it mainly takes a reality check. Does it work in real time--or does the "news" arrive two months after everyone already knows the "real" facts? Does it convey real information and knowledge--or is it some contrived and often meaningless version of the truth that has been sanitized or glamorized through the word-smithing of professional communicators at the behest of senior management?

If we want well-informed people, working in high-trust relationships in our organizations, we need to stare that need for reality in the face and determine what it means for organizational communication. For starters, it means that those responsible for internal communication need to make a basic shift away from being media and message mongers toward serving as facilitators of the communication process for which everyone is responsible and in which everyone plays a vital role.

What does that look like in the real world? First and foremost, we have to stop thinking about communication as media and messages and start thinking about it as systems and relationships. What does a real communication system look like? Among the essential characteristics:

* Interaction

* Availability and access

* Speed

* Relevance

* Inclusion

Here are some important considerations about each of those characteristics.

INTERACTION

We have all heard people grumble that the communication in their organization isn't a two-way street--it's all top down. It is easy to sympathize with the intent of their complaint, but it misses a very basic point. If it's one-way, it's not real communication. It is nothing more than message distribution. Even some communication professionals miss that pertinent fact. Those communicators tend to define their roles by the messages they put out and the media they use rather than the relationships that communication must facilitate.

If you want to know whether or not someone is a message-maker or a communicator, here is a quick tip-off. In his speaking or in his writing, does he follow the verb "communicate" with the preposition "to?" If so, it's a good sign that he just doesn't get it. People like that see their role as information providers, which is only half the process.

Real communicators believe that the only prepositions that should follow the word "communicate" are "with" and "about." Real communication is an interactive process, not a directive or distributive one. If the goal is "common" understanding, messages must flow back and forth in a continuous exchange, not the straight line that you get from traditional communication tools such as newsletters, magazines and management memos.

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Real-Life, Real-Time Communication: More Than a Function, It's the Central Nervous System of Your Organization
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