Chapter I. Fainting goats & other whimsy. |or| Introduction, and the state of corporate communication at present.
You needn’t look much further than your Facebook feed to see the evolution of communication among our species. Go on — take a peek at what thrills us, but I warn you — it probably won’t be pretty. Yes… if ever there was evidence that humanity is not quite as evolved as we may like to think we are, social media will confirm it.
The facts? We communicate in machine-gun bursts, and consume in chunks. We text, tweet, message, comment and chat across multiple channels, platforms and devices, to multiple people — often at the same time. We share YouTube clips of cats being terrorised by cucumbers. We create ridiculous memes based on pop culture references — and we LOL about it. We talk about the things that make us feel something: funny, sad, angry, confused. We curate the content that interests us, and ruthlessly block the content that doesn’t. We’re frequently exposed to language and grammar that delivers an impudent slap to the hallowed covers of Oxford English Dictionary, and often defies logic or comprehension. 😑
We sure are wired to connect in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways.
Of the 7.4 billion people currently spinning around on this planet, 1.3 billion of us leave our homes each day, bound with unbridled enthusiasm* for full-time jobs. Here, the same folk who’re amused by videos of goats fainting, who send messages composed of single emoticons, who spend evenings WhatsApping and Snapchatting — go to work, where we do things, make things, invent things, fix things, and sell things. And y’know what changes about their communication preferences when all these people are at work, doing all these things?
They remain amused by fainting goats. They continue to 😂 at their friends. Meanwhile, any guesses at how the modern organisation they work for might communicate with them?
A xeroxed memo on the corporate letterhead — straight from nineteen-fifty-bloody-three.
Yes, there may be more than a few in the corporate world who’d be fascinated to discover the sheer number of options available to humans as viable alternatives to Microsoft Powerpoint. We use spoken, written, signed, or gestured communication — received via auditory, tactile, proprioceptive, or visual systems. We occasionally use our vestibular, olfactory, and gustatory** senses too. There’s an estimated 6,500 languages in use throughout the world, many of them evolving daily. There’s non-verbals too: body language, eye contact, sign language, haptic communication, and chronemics. Let’s not forget accessibility either — Braille, captions, sign language, and so forth. Finally, heave atop this towering pile the myriad of emerging technologies creating entirely new ways to connect and communicate. It’s enough to leave you speechless.
All these possibilities for communication — yet corporate hasn’t caught up. Even the behemoths of the business world, brands you’d expect to be on point — frequently use methods lagging at least 5 years behind.
It’s no wonder so many companies have an engagement problem.
Speaking of engagement — here’s a fun fact: according to Gallup, only 13% of the global workforce are engaged. Chew on that statistic for a moment… that’s the majority of the working population — 1.1 billion people — that turn up to work with a vague apathy, and do… pretty much the bare minimum. Leave a sour taste? Indeed. Fortunately, a recent Towers Watson study tempts us with something of a far nicer flavour: companies that communicate effectively are 4 times more likely to have higher engagement levels, and 47% higher shareholder returns compared to those less effective at communicating.
It doesn’t take a statistician, nor skilled dot-joiner to make the connection between communication, engagement and performance. Even without the figures, most savvy leaders know intuitively that they need to do something different to win the waning attention of their people.
This is the work we do on a daily basis. Approached by leaders of Fortune companies, full of good ideas and great intentions, but aware that worthy work means nothing if it isn’t heard. Ahhh… but if only we had a dollar for every time an initial project discussion came with the caveat: “We still need to make sure it’s professional though…”
Synonymous with the death of hope for creating innovative, engaging, or difference-making work. A bastardisation of an honest word — misused to excuse ass-covering, complacent comfort in the status-quo, and a lack of courage to stand behind beliefs and fight for remarkable.
“We really need to engage our people, but we need it to be professional.”
Phrased as if human and professional were mutually exclusive.
Therein lies the proverbial rub.
* Irony! Refer to engagement statistic.
** Spatial, smell, and taste, respectively. I had to check these, after being soundly schooled by Kenia (whose first language isn’t English) on the meaning of gustatory.