Read the results of just about any large organisation’s ‘employee engagement survey’, and you’re likely to find communication is amongst the top issues marked as needing attention. With the (often unnecessary) hierarchies, functions and silos that some organisations create, this is hardly surprising. I suspect many of us have worked in organisations that encourage over-communication (“better send this to ‘all staff’ to cover our backs!”) or under-communicate (“Stick it on the intranet, 12 links deep. It’s their responsibility to find it!”). This says a lot about an organisation’s communication culture.
The culture and norms of communication that an organisation cultivates can affect the success of projects too. Foist a new process or system on an unsuspecting “user” and they are likely to react with shock and rebellion. And who wouldn’t—as human beings don’t we all have a need to feel engaged, considered and consulted? Underpinning this is the need to engage and communicate at the most optimum times—avoiding the over/under-communication trap.
Delivering large-scale change in organisations is tricky. When the chips are down and tensions are high, there can be pressure to put in long hours to get the project “over the line”. I’m sure most people reading this will have put in the occasional very late night or early morning at work. Arguably, there is nothing wrong with long hours in the short term, that is the reality of complex projects, yet left unchecked in the long term a worrying pattern could emerge.
I was going through a box of old stuff a few weeks ago and I came across an old end of year appraisal document from a long, long time ago. I remember the time vividly—I was travelling a lot around Europe as part of a project team, and long hours became the norm. There were tight deadlines—seemingly impossible deadlines at times—but I did what I could to ensure they were met. I still vividly remember working in my hotel room late one evening, being so engrossed in my work I forgot to eat (and by the time I realised it was midnight so the hotel’s restaurant had closed). I spent weeks in vibrant European cities and saw nothing other than hotels, conference rooms and airports.
On reflection, this was a formative time in my career. I learned a lot and I had a very supportive line manager. Yet, with the power of hindsight I wonder whether I had fallen into the trap of trying to solve underlying project and planning issues by just “working harder” and “working longer”. And a strange and potentially destructive pattern emerged: the more I worked, the more some members of the project team expected of me…