How do you measure success? For companies, it can be measured in many ways, from profit to customer satisfaction to employee retention and everything in between. Fundamental to any measure of success is good communication. It is the foundation of positive relationships, both inside and outside a company. Without it, there’s a great risk of alienating all those essential to business success — employees, customers, shareholders and the public as a whole. That’s why the next truth in our 12 truths in business is: Whenever there is a lack of communication or information, people will fill that void with negativity. Avoid the void.
• Timing is everything. Communication is especially critical in times of change. For example, when a company is re-engineering its brand or launching a new brand, the way it’s introduced must be carefully planned. When Capacity Trucks, a manufacturer of yard trucks, relaunched its brand and introduced a new product at the same time, it communicated with employees first. By doing so, it aligned its internal team and inspired them with the support of Capacity’s leadership. Getting the message from company leaders gives validity to the information being shared and shows support from the very highest levels.
It’s the difference between success and failure. Acquisitions are tricky … and scary. That’s why it’s one of the most critical times in a company’s history to get the communication right. And like brand and product launches, communicating first to employees is essential. Hearing that one’s employer is being purchased brings up many concerns. Lay-offs, closures, downsizing, and salary and benefits status are all areas of concern. Often when acquisitions fail, it’s a result of poor communication, which erodes trust. When that happens, valuable employees are more likely to jump ship. That’s why a strategic communications plan must be in place before the news is announced. It can help dissipate negativity and keep the acquisition on track.
• What you don’t say speaks volumes. We’ve learned from today’s political climate that it’s often what you don’t say that captures the most attention. In 2013, an internal memo from Yahoo’s human resources department to employees was leaked to the public. It informed those who worked remotely that they would no longer be able to do so and would have to move to a Yahoo office or resign. This was significant news for many employees, and a memo simply didn’t provide enough explanation. It caused confusion, a lack of understanding and a torrent of negativity both inside and outside the company. It was two months before the CEO publicly addressed the situation. In the interim, the company was criticized not only for its refusal to allow employees to work from home, but its failure to clearly communicate.
• The void infects the experience. When employees fill a communication void with negativity, it often seeps into the customer experience. If those who work in customer-facing roles feel discouraged or frustrated with the company they represent, that attitude can come through loud and clear in their dealings with customers.
• Speak the truth or suffer the consequences. The customer experience can also be harmed when a company doesn’t provide quick, complete communication on product issues. The Takata airbag issue was an example of the negativity that arises from not speaking the truth. When the manufacturer manipulated data to cover up its product failures instead of owning up to its mistakes, it damaged the company and its brand beyond repair.
Communication should be a continuous effort in any business. George Bernard Shaw wrote, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” It’s easy to assume others know what you know. Companies must carefully consider what should be communicated, to whom it should be communicated and how. By maintaining a focus on internal and external communication, they can avoid the void and the ensuing negativity.
BARRY LABOV, a two-time Ernst & Young entrepreneur of the year and inductee into the Entrepreneur Hall of Fame, is founder, president and CEO of LABOV Marketing Communications and Training in Fort Wayne. He has written and co-authored more than a dozen business books and is a regular columnist in business publications.