The Legacy of Poor Management Communications

How long lasting are the effects of poor management communications? They may be longer than you think.

That was the takeaway from a recent executive retreat I facilitated for a client. The current management team is relatively new – comprised of a few VPs who came from outside the organization and several who came up through the ranks and had reported to members of the previous administration. During the retreat, this “new” team focused on improving internal communications.

In their discussions, they acknowledged their frustration in continuing to deal with the erosion of trust and related fallout from poor communications by previous administrations that tended to play politics with each other to achieve personal agendas. Some of the former VPs were also inconsistent in sharing information with their respective divisions. I recall one former VP who proudly declared he shared limited information on a “need to know” basis only – so his employees were left to fend for themselves when it came to learning most top-down information.

The cumulative result of poor management communications is that the current management team is challenged in dealing with the “working wounded” (including some of the VPs themselves). Among the problematic issues they face, they cited:

  • employees’ reluctance to express their opinions or ask questions
  • inconsistent sharing of information between and within departments
  • “political fiefdoms pushing agendas,” and employees’ lack of understanding of how the new management team operates (different from the old guard’s penchant for playing politics).

How will they meet this challenge? By working to create a “safe place” for discussion … being willing to engage employees in discussion … listening and responding to employee ideas and concerns … and demonstrating trust and respect in all their communications with employees and each other.

Knowing my client’s commitment to improving organizational communications, I’m confident members of the current administration will be able to turn the situation around. They’re also smart enough to know that it won’t happen overnight – re-building trust takes time and patience.

4 Comments

  • Sybil September 16, 2010 Reply

    Yes, Debra, the new management team has acknowledged this but they continue to run into pockets of cynicism. Hopefully their experience will serve as a cautionary tale for other organizations to not take good management communications for granted – because if done poorly, it takes a lonnnnnng time to repair the damage done to trust and credibility.

  • Debra Semans September 15, 2010 Reply

    Sybil, will it be important for the new administration to acknowledge the failures of the past? (In the most diplomatic way possible, of course!) I am wondering whether it might be best simply to acknowledge “that was then” and “this is now” as a strong signal to employees that there’s a new regime in town?
    Debra

  • Sybil September 14, 2010 Reply

    I hope so, Chris. Especially as the best way to weather such changes lay in effective communications as well as consistency of purpose/mission.

  • Chris Bonney September 14, 2010 Reply

    Many governmental agencies, and a lot of nonprofits, are good examples of this. They have to deal with an ever changing landscape of elected officials and boards of directors who zig one way during one administration and another way during the next. They cope with this with a “This, too, shall pass” attitude and, generally speaking, digging in and getting the work done as best they can. But this condition also makes them impervious to change of any kind. That, too, will change.

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