In a recent CNBC interview, Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture’s North America business, said the greatest advice she could give was this: “Develop excellent communication skills. I think people underrate the importance of investing in [their] communication skills as a way to progress in [their] career.” She knows what she’s talking about. She runs a $16 billion business and oversees a team of more than 50,000 employees.
We believe the ability to communicate with purpose and clarity is the key to personal and professional success. Seems pretty straightforward until you consider the definition of communication: “A process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. The key word here is exchange. And that’s where it falls apart.
Communication skills are often called “soft skills,” but poor communication significantly affects the bottom line. The average loss per company per year is $62.4 million because of inadequate communication to and between employees, according to David Grossman’s “The Cost of Poor Communications.”
Here are some typical examples of where communication breaks down and the cost:
- Project Failure. Poor communication leads to project failure a third of the time, according to the Project Management Institute. The Institute also reported that for every $1 billion spent on projects, $75 million is put at risk by ineffective communication.
- Change Management. Forty-six percent of change management efforts fail during execution, according to a Robert Half Management Resources survey. Why? Lack of communication. Tim Hird, executive director for the company, said, “65 percent percent of respondents said that communicating clearly and frequently is the most important action to take when going through organizational change.”
- Meetings. Organizations held more than 25 million meetings per day in the United States in 2015. Executives considered 67% of them unproductive. Workers tend to agree. Nearly 50 percent would rather be waiting in line at the DMV or watching paint dry than attend status meetings. And worst of all, 46 percent of attendees leave meetings without a clear understanding of the next action item. The estimated cost: $37 billion in lost productivity.
If you want to reverse those numbers, focus on your managers and their communication skills. Only 35 percent of managers are engaged in their work and only 18 percent have the “high talent” needed to succeed, according to Gallup’s most recent State of the American Manager study. The annual cost to the U.S. economy: $319 billion to $398 billion in lost productivity.
Managers play a critical role in a company’s bottom line. They put strategic plans into action, secure employee buy-in on company strategies, ensure day-to-day operations run smoothly, and communicate progress up and down the organization.
Unfortunately, communication and diplomacy are the two skills managers most need to improve (30 percent), according to a recent Robert Half Management Resources survey. The study found communication skills were rated more important than technical expertise.
The reason a manager’s communication skills are so important is because they engage employees in daily tasks. Larry Edmond, managing partner for Gallup writes, “Any company with an ‘engagement program’ should step back and look at what that program actually entails. If the program is all about arming managers with learning and tools to better engage their people every day, then it's on the right track. If it is merely an annual survey and reporting exercise, the organization should close it down, regroup, and start over.” He adds, engagement programs “should be all about providing managers with learning and tools to increase engagement within their teams, week in and week out—through ongoing conversations between managers and their employees.”
“Employees need regular, formal and informal conversations with their manager. For instance, employees and managers can better understand expectations, workloads, priorities and roadblocks by completing informal, daily ‘quick connects’ lasting five to 15 minutes,” says Ben Wigert, lead performance management researcher at Gallup, in a recent CLO article.
Employees who get twice the number of one-on-ones with their manager relative to their peers are 67 percent less likely to be disengaged, according to recent Harvard Business Review post, "What Great Managers Do Daily." The study also found those employees where managers don’t meet with them one-on-one or at all, or fail to provide on-the-job training, are four times as likely to be disengaged as individual contributors as a whole, and are two times as likely to view leadership more unfavorably compared to those who meet with their managers regularly.
Communication is not a soft skill. It affects the bottom line and offers tangible return on investment.
To learn more about how you can change the way you communicate, join me at ATD 2018 International Conference & Exposition for the session: The Bullseye Principle: Influence Emotion to Motivate Action.