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ATD Blog

Why Everyone Should Develop Effective Communication Skills

Thursday, March 29, 2018

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.”

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.

About the Author

G. Riley (Gary) Mills is the co-founder of Pinnacle Performance Company and co-author of The Pin Drop Principle. He has taught effective communication to executives and CEOs in more than 30 countries. He has guest-lectured or delivered keynotes at such events and institutions as the ATD International Conference & Exposition, Columbia University, London Chamber of Commerce, New York University, Young Presidents' Organization, Cox School of Business, Southern Methodist University, Learning and Skills Conference (London), SHRM (regional chapters), Singapore Management University, and Manchester United. He also co-founded a nonprofit company called The Bookwallah Organization, whose sole mission is to collect storybooks, set up libraries, and promote literacy in orphanages around the world.

1 Comment
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This is a great article. Buttresses the fact that effective communication is vital in organizations. It's the soft skill that all highly skilled professionals should have. Effective communication helps to foster good working relationship between staff, which can in turn improve morale and efficiency in organizations. Poor communication in the workplace especially during change will inevitably lead to unmotivated staff that may begin to question their own confidence in their abilities.
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