Strategic information in organizations can be paired down to two primary types: 1. what I (the employee) want or need to know, and 2. what the organization wants or needs me to know. Sometimes they are the same. Often they are not.
In fact, if they are the same, you probably have a strong culture and decent communication strategy, articulating a clear and engaging message and delivering it effectively.
But, for many of us (if we are honest), that sort of alignment is still an aspiration.
Often organizations are predominantly either want-to-know organizations or need-to-know organizations.
Want-to-knows pride themselves on being highly participatory and democratic. They want their people involved and they believe in the knowledge of their people to drive their work. Anything “top-down” can even be taboo.
Need-to-know organizations invest specifically in top-down models of information flow. Given the “right” information, their people will execute and the end result will be effective and efficient performance. The premise, although probably packaged differently, is: “we’ll just tell you what you need to know.”
In the extreme (which I have seen both), neither works. Want-to-knows can be so “organic” and participatory that the direction of the organization is perpetually unclear, and roles and responsibilities (even deliverables) become uncertain. Everyone is involved but little gets done. Despite the intention of building a positive and engaging culture, frustration slowly brews as clarity and execution wanes.
Alternatively, need-to-knows risk alienating their people and losing the leverage of their “local” knowledge. As people adapt to narrow sources of information from the top, their confidence in themselves and those closest to them breaks down. Deference to others for decision-making sets in. The organization becomes inefficient and slow to respond to its environment. People stay really busy but don’t seem to get much done.
So, if you build a communication strategy, whether for an entire organization, a division, or a department, you have to be courageous enough to let your people speak and smart enough to listen for understanding. You also have to be bold enough to have a clear voice and articulate a compelling direction for your people to rally behind.
Your organizational information flow is constant; whether or not it is strategic or qualifies as communication is up to you.
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