culture of communication employee engagement

Creating a Culture of Communication

When companies fail, it may be because they didn’t provide products or services that met a market need. Or, they were mis-managed. But the primary culprit is often poor communication.

No matter what your work environment or your industry, if communication with employees is broken, you will never realize your corporate vision. What’s essential to success is creating a culture of communication.

According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, The Silent Killer of Big Companies, the main reason for the organizational failure of five major companies was “a grievous lapse in communication.”

If It’s Broke, Fix It

If a company’s internal communication program is broken, employee satisfaction suffers, which, in turn, hurts customer satisfaction. And, if that happens, the bottom line is bound to suffer as well. Change programs can fail when management doesn’t see the link between internal and external communications.

As the Harvard article states, “Those leaders who do effectively manage the flow of information within their company tend to share a certain outlook — and a certain set of practices. They adopt communication methods that enable them to get closer to employees.

“They put in place communication systems that promote dialogue, as opposed to monologue. They engage employees by allowing them to become active participants in the communication process. They rigorously pursue an agenda that aligns their communication efforts with organizational strategy.”

It is employees who are most often the primary interface between the company and its targets. Customers are the most obvious and important external audience. Without them there is no business.

But the media is an increasingly intrusive “partner” as reporters pounce on every bad piece of company news – often coming from the mouths of unhappy employees. Online chat rooms and social media provide a public platform for employees to vent their grievances and the media and customers are tuning in.

Why Communications Fail

The global economy and new technologies are transforming the way organizations do business. To bring their vision of a new, highly competitive company to life, it is essential for management to build and nurture a total culture of communication that includes internal and external audiences. Employee communication is too often a stepchild in this process.

It is not an overstatement to say that business transformation will only be accomplished by building a global culture of communication that gains the commitment of employees at all levels, driving growth and performance. The key to ensuring success is consistency of communications to the right people at the right time with the right messages.

Internal communication efforts often fall short because:

  • Behaviors don’t match the message, especially senior executive behaviors
  • Communicating is not viewed as an important process or asset
  • Communication is blocked at many levels – up, down and across
  • Complicated and lengthy approval processes prevent timely distribution of information
  • Employees don’t hear things first, thus a loss of faith develops
  • Too much is communicated and more important messages are lost in the clutter

The Tenets of a Culture of Communication

There are four tenets of a Culture of Communication. Trust is at the core – all communications must be reliable, truthful and contain the full story. At the heart of trust is:

  • Openness – there must be an unwavering commitment to and support of a healthy two-way communications environment
  • Simplicity – communications must be clear, meaningful and accessible
  • Consistency – messages must be strategic and integrated
  • Caring – there must be concern for the individual

Establishing a Culture of Communication will improve communications effectiveness that will help organizations achieve their goals and objectives.

Companies that create best practices in all areas of communications, both internally and externally, will truly transform themselves.

Thanks to Mary Lynn Coyle and Barbara Earley for contributing their ideas to this post.

Leave a Reply


  1. Seems we posted articles about the same issue this week, Jeannette. Not sure if you noticed I got a comment from someone explaining the basics of what communication is. Made me reflect on how someone like that communicates. Most likely not successfully because pontificating like you are talking to children is another sure recipe for failure.

    • Catarina — I noticed, too, that we covered the same topic. Great minds, an all that… So true you can’t talk down to people. Don’t assume they know nothing about you or your offerings. Communicating simply and effectively doesn’t mean you talk to people as if they were uninformed children.

  2. Jeannette – it is interesting that Catarina’s article this week is on communication. Great minds and all that!

    Communication really is key and business owners must be willing to adapt to reach out to their existing/potential customers.

    I will be making a note of the four tenets of a culture of a culture of communication.

    • Phoenicia — yes, it was interesting that Catarina and I wrote about the same topic. But not surprising, because communication is at the essence of all human interaction.

  3. I think you brought up a really good point that internal communication is important to uphold employee satisfaction, and if this suffers, then so does the customer’s satisfaction. It is a chain effect that begins from the inside.

    • Emily – if employees are unhappy they will not be committed to customer satisfaction. As you state, it’s as simple as that.

  4. Such an important topic! To this day I recall the interview I had for my last job in the corporate world. The regional manager interviewing me asked the number one most important thing I looked for in an employer and without hesitating, I said “good communication”. She assured me that communication was a priority at her company – I got the job, she lied. I was a field district manager and worked out of my home and felt so isolated and to offset that I ended up over communicating with my local staff and vendors. Then we’d have these quarterly meetings at various locations around the country where they’d data-dump on us for days. Ugh, so glad I escaped!

    • Marquita — communication is 24/7 and not just something you do every quarter. Companies need to build a reservoir of good will with their employees so that when the company hits a rough patch, the “team” will pull together and employees will do everything possible to help right the ship. But, sadly, that old-fashioned trust and loyalty — fostered by communication — is lacking in most companies.

  5. Hi Jeannette. What you said goes for everything, not just businesses. Marriages fail because spouses don’t communicate. Kids only become a problem when parents don’t communicate with them.

    Communication isn’t taught in network marketing either. Teams fall apart over a lack of communication. Customers switch distributors because of it too, mostly because without it they have no idea who their distributor is. My business is mostly built on that fact. I don’t introduce new people, they just find me online. Then I make sure to keep in touch with them so that I can keep them.

    I bet most of the conflicts in the world can be traced back to a lack of communication between the conflicting parties.

    On the other side, the last company that I had a “real job” with was a very strong company. Everything was communicated openly and everyone had a voice. It was a great company to work for.

    • Wayne — true story: a nephew who worked for a Big Four accounting firm told me the company conducted a survey of its employees and 75% didn’t know who their boss was! They were assigned to different teams but no one who communicated with them on a regular basis. Quite unbelievable for a firm that counsels other companies on how to run their business.

  6. My degree is in Communications, so I might tend to over empathies its importance. Communication is the basis of the human race. Society was formed because of this, how could we build a town or city without being able to speak to each other. Laws, are nothing more than society telling its members what the can or cannot do.
    There is no difference in business. A company must allow a free flowing communication, both from the top, and from the bottom up.
    If communication breaks down, then the business will. Great article.

    • William — I couldn’t agree more. As the Harvard researchers discovered, lack of communication was the reason that five major companies failed.

  7. Without trust, communication is at a deficit. I think the metaphor is that trust is like a bank account: you are ALWAYS making deposits and withdrawals. There is never a neutral, mistakes can be corrected.

    I’ve seen this happen up front as a corporate trainer for leadership development. It wasn’t comfortable for me as a outsider so I can only imagine the employees nightmare.

    • Patricia — Trust is at the heart of every relationship. In fact, without trust there is no relationship. I think that’s why the old-fashioned loyalty that employees had in the past is gone because there is no trust that management will do the right thing.

  8. Great points as always Jeannette. It’s a wonder that this still has to be explained but unfortunately communications is harder to do than people think and subsequently gets ignored.

    • Debra — I was lucky once to have a CEO who thought that communications was the most important function of the bank. What a difference that made. But just once in all the organizations I worked for.

  9. Well said yet again, Jeannette. I well remember the year management told me to do an employee survey. Meeting after meeting I told them: do not do this survey if you are not going to act on the results.

    We will, they promised again and again.

    I did the survey, they didn’t like the results, so they didn’t act on them.

    So much for open communication.

    • RoseMary — I can relate. It is so demoralizing for employees to know that management could care less what they think. You wonder how such dumb people could be running so many companies!

  10. This post rings loud and true, as I used to work for a company that had dreadful internal communications. One day driving to work, I heard on the radio that the division of the company that I was working with was shutting down and I was in utter shock! Why couldn’t they have told the staff before telling the media !!!!?????

    • Doreen — I worked in public relations for years and I can’t tell you how often that happened. I would always advise sending a message to employees about a new development but management thought they could keep a secret from employees AND the media. I will never forget the time I was managing the PR account for a major company that was about to launch a new business. We gathered in the “war room” to discuss strategy. The TV was on and as we were talking a national news network began the top of the program by revealing the company’s plans. The walls have ears!

  11. This post brings to mind my last year of teaching when I returned from school after the summer off. I was excited to be asked to be on a team that would be helping teacher implement better teaching practices. Lo and behold, that turned out to be some expensive curriculum software the school had spent due to receiving grant money that could only be spent on a narrow scope of improvements. Nobody had been consulted on the choice of software. It was beyond corny and all of the teachers hated it. I tried to find redeeming values in it, but to truly see benefits from it, months of proper training would have been needed, and I wasn’t about to add that to my 65-hour workweek. Thankfully, I didn’t have to return the following year to watch its full crash and burn. Simply having things sprung upon you is one of the worst feelings ever.

    • Jeri — awful story, but not atypical. In NYC, the school system was found to be putting American born children of Russian and Hispanic immigrants into English as second language classes, even when they didn’t speak Russian or Spanish because it would increase state aid. Parents fought against that, obviously, but I’m not sure they were successful.

  12. In my work experience, the company’s culture can play a very intrigue role in the success of its employees and of the company itself. It’s always a good idea to turn the workplace into a small friendly community rather than a group of acquaintances. My current workplace is like my second family. We are so close and have been through many challenges together at work. We even play golf together sometimes on weekend.

  13. Hi Jeannette,
    I read your article and got to know a really really different and unique thing about a business to be failed i.e. lack of communication. I have never noticed this thing before that lack of communication can lead to serious illness to the business. I will be very much careful from now so that my business should not get any obstacle just because of communication.
    Thanks for sharing such a wonderful article.

    • Kaushal — lack of communication can really harm a company. Your customers may harbor wrong impressions of the company and its services. Simply communicating with them and keeping them up to date will forge a strong bond with them.

  14. A really good piece highlighting the importance of communication within any organisation. The resource that has been cited here (HBR’s article), clearly show how a lack of communication can hinder performance and can even damage an organization. Thanks for sharing this article.