VITarSS – Follow Up On Communicating

Program Note: On my blog, I follow a strict rule, “Praise in Public, reprimand in private.” Thus, the organization in this example remains unidentified. While I believe in the public shaming of individuals to promote improved societal actions, reprimanding in public remains very unprofessional in my opinion. The organization mentioned knows about this blog and is provided the opportunity to review this post before posting. If a response ever comes forth, I will post, after sufficient scrubbing, the business response.

Disclaimer: I am heavily invested in the discussed organization and a full separation from this organization is not possible for personal and professional reasons. Thus, when discussing organizational concerns, organizational change, and organizational dilemmas, these problems are significant and personal to my future professionally. The continuing struggles of this organization are difficult to observe and many lessons on managers acting like leaders are being poignantly taught to other businesses.

It has been a sad experience to receive additional communications from a company I used to do a lot of business with, sad, because the organization refuses to provide even a modicum of customer service in all the communications received. With an eye to following up on how to use VITarSS to promote customer loyalty building experiences, the following provides a clear example. From the last emailed communication received from the organization comes the following that while technically and legally accurate lacks customer attention and does not employ VITarSS more specifically. The company recently adopted the program “Service of Excellence,” and this email, along with all the communication from this organization, lacks excellence along with short changing service. The email response was received after nine-days from the original submission requesting further assistance. No phone calls, no personal response, simply a rushed and hurried email message quoted directly:

“Thank you for taking the time to outline your concerns.  We are in receipt of your email.

We are reviewing this matter and conducting research into your file to address any new concerns that have not previously been addressed by our office.

We understand the urgency of this matter and will follow up with you expeditiously [sic].”

Notice the inflection upon “new” concerns. This suggests that previous concerns are not valid and only “new” concerns are important enough to generate a response. Instead of taking all the communications, all the concerns, and wrapping them together into an actionable item, only “new” concerns receive organizational attention. This is an intentional organizational action that automatically discounts previous concerns raised, dismisses the organization-wide problems detailed in previous communications, and narrows the focus of the intended future organizational response into a negligible sized portion. Think “water off a duck’s back” when considering the company response plans to discount the customer’s concerns. By breaking down the report of problems, the problems are easier to dispel and slides off into areas of non-importance, like water sliding off a duck’s back.

Failure to communicate remains a culture in this organization from internal customer relationships to external customer relationships. Communicating properly hinders operations and abilities, stifles creativity, thwarts organizational change, and destroys morale for both the customer and the front-line workers. Employees on the front-line do not seem to have much problems communicating with their equals, but from front line worker to front-line supervisor, communication trouble ensues. Front-line supervisor to director, more communication troubles become apparent, and fissures between these parties are obvious enough that external customers are aware of the problems. When communications go up the hierarchy, communication breaks down dramatically. Downward communications always delivered via email, conference call, and marketing schemes, with employee adherence, compliance, and understanding measured in statistics. The voice of internal customers is lost, intentionally glazed over, and drowned into silence controlled by layers of managers seeking to hold onto power.

VITarSS communications are primarily valuable to the audience, imaginatively communicate ideas, and target a specified audience, providing specifics and significance to the intended audience. Below is what the same passage quoted above, would look like with VITarSS:

Thank you for taking the time to outline your concerns. These concerns are important to us as a company and me personally, and we appreciate every opportunity to correct deficiencies.

We are reviewing this matter and conducting research into your customer file. Our customer response will address your specific concerns, and I will report to you promptly with the research results, along with a suggested plan of action to move forward.

I understand the urgency of this matter and it is my pleasure to follow up with you in a timely manner.

The difference is clear. By maintaining a customer first focus, the customer can then expect a proper response from the organization. Employing VITarSS promotes customer first communications, aids in communicating action, and delivers the power of communication in a two-directional manner. Significance of the customer’s concerns becomes important to the organization, and the entire response declares intent to act. Where in the first communication did any of this occur? The reason for failure continues to be simple; failure to communicate is creating organizational cancer leading to organizational suicide.

While VITarSS does help improve communication and can change the communication culture, VITarSS does not and cannot be the Band-Aid fixing deep organizational communication cancers. VITarSS simply begins to help change the culture, aids in improving the thoughts of individuals where communicating is concerned, and provides a standardized measuring device to bring all employees to the same standard in organizational communication. Dandira (2012) makes clear, poor communication is the root cause of organizational cancer. By failing to communicate, refusing to honor the agreement between external customer and the organization, open honest dialogue, and respect the customer, the organizational cancer has spread and metastasized into a massive and urgent problem that only the surgery and chemotherapy of solid leadership can fix. The failure to communicate with the external customer displays the organizational cancer and portrays information that the organization would rather not have seen by the external customers, vendors, investors, etc. Unlike most cancer situations, this cancer was self-inflicted.

Ten days from the original communication, the response received was nothing short of ambiguous, placed the organization into a favorable position, and denied all concerns raised by the customer. In total, 19-days were spent on an issue of organizational incompetence where the organization, through the customer service arm, failed to act, failed to communicate, and failed to even address the customer concerns.

By focusing upon several small items in the three-page original letter, the organization is justifying their actions while discounting the source, e.g. the customer making the claims of organizational impropriety. Please note there is no accusation of illegal or illicit actions. The actions taken by the company are technically within the law, but are not customer focused, do not satisfy customer service relationships, and allows the problems to be discounted instead of addressed and fixed. Again, organizational cancer grew instead of being faced squarely and a fix launched.

When organizational communication problems mix with managerial micro-networks, organizational change opportunities diminish significantly. Through micro-networking, managers gain power inside the organization and become the problem detailed as organizational cancer. Trouble in organizational communication identifies where organizational problems lie and provides leadership the opportunity to work on organizational change. A failure of leadership adds power to the micro networks established by these managers, who see change as a threat to their personal power base. Thus, true organizational change that entails correcting adverse culture and environmental problems stagnate. The leaders become frustrated and leave the organization. All these symptoms represent pieces of the root cause failure in organizational communications.

Grammar remains important in every communication between a customer and an organization. Proper formatting, knowledge between when to send a business letter or a business memo, and the differences in communication formats aid to combine to communicate more effectively. The original communication as a rushed and hurried email message and is not grammatically correct intensifies the organizational communication problem and the external customer frustration. Worse, the poor grammar sets the professional tone of the organization as one that will not address the customer’s concerns.

Grammar is a force multiplier in written communication, just as tone of voice is a communication multiplier in verbal communication, and clothing is a communication force multiplier in non-verbal visual communication. Proper grammar provides the opportunity to focus upon the written words without automatically discounting the sender.

Recently an email received from an associate was missing all punctuation, spelling was non-existent, and the email was mostly gibberish written from a smart phone. Natural human instinct is to delete the email or send a crushing reply. Hence, the continued importance in written communication of the sender’s grammar, time investment in editing, and the proper use of language, format, and style to communicate well. All of which VITarSS has the power to improve in all types and forms of communication.

Reference

Dandira, M. (2012). Dysfunctional leadership: Organizational cancer. Business Strategy Series, 13(4), 187-192. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17515631211246267

© 2016 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

 

Shifting the Organizational Communication Paradigm: VITarSS

VITarSS is an acronym I created to help focus the efforts of business communication during change processes, initial organizational design, and facilitating communication in the truest sense of the word. Too often, small and mid-sized businesses are functioning in communication like a large corporation. Confused communication plans, entrenched managers, inflexible processes and procedures, but worst of all, sending communication and employing statistics to measure adherence. It is time and past time to stop using statistics to replace actual voices for customers, especially internal customers, in business processes. This post is the introduction to VITarSS; coming shortly will be examples of how poor communication creates problems and how employing VITarSS would have helped the situation.

When considering organizational communication, several elements need to come together to create communication with power. These elements include: value, imagination, targeted audience, specific purpose, and significance for the audience and business as a whole, (VITarSS). Value: This refers to the receiver answering the concern, “Will the communication be valuable to me personally?” If not, value in the communication is lost and the sender fails to communicate. Knowing the audience remains key to building value; asking the audience what they want, the channel or mode they prefer, and what leaders can do to improve communication, helps to customize the communication experience. A desire to build value through knowing the audience and communicating in the same language style is critical to building value. Yet, communicating in the audience’s language often is perceived as condescending or paternalistic if verbs and tenses are not similar. Translating into the audience’s language occurs when leaders are engaged in listening and asking clarifying questions. Value builds when standards in sending and receiving same channel, two-directional messages improve.

Imagination: Communication should never settle for something that has previously worked well or worked well for another organization or department. This is the “lazy man’s” method to organizational communication. Imagination does not refer to marketing gimmicks and sales techniques or silly games to garner interest. Imagination refers to relying upon human-to-human knowledge transfer processes. Girdauskienė and Savanevičienė (2007) offer useful advice on the processes of knowledge transference by insisting upon the principles VITarSS is based upon. For example, when a problem is realized, listen to potential solutions, imagine them at work, maybe beta-test a couple, but keep imagining the future and communicate the future to solve the problem.

Targeted: Targeted communication, especially when moving mass amounts of data, requires a personal touch. Specificity and knowledge combine to send and receive knowledge on a topic. In many ways, targeted communication remains similar to the United States Postal Service (USPS), massive amounts of data transferred to targeted destinations in small little packets to and from senders and receivers to meet communication standards; regardless of whether the message is a poster, an email, a face-to-face, etc., target the communication specifically to that audience. Even when a person receives 100 packets of information, the communication is targeted, specific, and honed to a single issue. Anonymous (1994 and 2006) both make similar appeals where communicating is concerned, and they represent a small minority of people begging business organizations to onboard the VITarSS principles of communication.

Specific: While similar in many ways to targeted communication, specificity is individually important to communication. Each audience member will receive the same message, but each audience member will perceive the message differently according to individualized value matrices, ability to employ the message, and questions about applicability. When specificity is lost, the message is lost, and Dandira’s (2012) counsel on organizational cancer is not far behind. Poor organizational communication remains a force multiplier: a problem develops, poor communication lacking VITarSS releases to employees, and instead of solving the problem, there are now 10-problems. Like biological cancer, these 10-problems metastasize into a much larger problem. “Work arounds” and “Band-Aid solutions” as “temporary measures” become a permanent way of avoiding the problem, and the cancer grows. Soon, another problem develops in a different area. The resources being sucked into the first problem makes handling the second problem more severe; VITarSS works as a tool in solving communication concerns. Without VITarSS, poor communication multiplies problems exponentially, and VITarSS must be applied with strong leadership, not additional “Band-Aid work arounds.”

Significant: Valuable communication focuses on application to the individual, but significant communication focuses upon long-term relationships between the message, the sender, and the receiver, along with the ability to move communication in a back and forth manner between the sender and receiver. In many ways, Brown (2011) along with Cable, Gino, and Staats (2013) intimate VITarSS is embedded in organizational design, focuses the efforts of many organizational leaders as senders and lower hierarchy employees as the audience onto the problems of communicating, and into actions as a single cohesive unit.

Alvesson and Willmott (2002) add additional caution and insight into the process of melding individuals into an organizational culture, which makes organizational communication a control mechanism. Alvesson and Willmott (2002) provide a unique counterpoint to the focal point of communication, the give and receive nature inherent in communication, e.g., two-directional on a single channel, when considering organizational identity each individual gives and receives from the organization. Thus, the question becomes why the reliance upon one-way communication strategies employing statistics to substitute actual voices of internal customers? Mintzberg (1980) discusses many of the key aspects required in designing organizations. The fundamental principles discussed regarding organizational design provide the needed backdrop to visualize how communication changes and becomes embedded upon every relationship in the organization.

The field of communication is not so much lacking as it is re-using principles and paradigms that do not work. The knowledge is there, and many examples exist displaying the principles of VITarSS in action, but the general usage of these principles is lacking due to various reasoning. The reasoning runs the gamut from internal risk control measures and organizational design, to cost effectiveness and lack of training, and into individual bias towards not interacting with other people or desiring to not interact with people as reports and meetings take precedence and are easier to shoe-horn into one’s professional day.

Without strong organizational communication plans, strong leadership, and less management, the hierarchy of the organization becomes less knowledgeable, which creates internal friction, reduces internal communication opportunities, and fulfills Dandira’s (2012) organizational cancer prophecy. VITarSS holds the elemental knowledge to construct the communication policy, design the organization, and create the needed hybrid solutions required for the current organization while planting the seeds for the future organization to grow. Researchers and business consultants continue to write on the direct line of congruence between managers controlling communication and lack of knowledge in the manager’s subordinates. This link is how genetic knowledge in an organization becomes lost, placing the business into perilous waters as employees retire and churn. Losing employees and deteriorating communication speeds employee churn and exasperates the communication problem. If your organization wants to save money on employee churn, improve communication, open doors and dialogue, listen, and follow VITarSS.

References

Alvesson M, & Willmott H. (2002, July) Identity regulation as organizational control: Producing the appropriate individual. Journal of Management Studies 39(5): 619-644. Available from: Business Source Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed July 27, 2014.

Anonymous. (1994). What is communication? The International Journal of Bank Marketing, 12(1), 19. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/231351871?accountid=458

Anonymous. (2006). Strategic communication. The Business Communicator, 6(7), 2. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/221153662?accountid=45

Brown, D. R. (2011) An experiential approach to organization development (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Cable, D. M., Gino, F., & Staats, B. R. (2013). Breaking them in or eliciting their best? Reframing socialization around newcomers’ authentic self-expression. Administrative Science Quarterly, 58(1), 1-36. doi: 10.1177/0001839213477098

Dandira, M. (2012). Dysfunctional leadership: Organizational cancer. Business Strategy Series, 13(4), 187-192. doi: 10.1108/17515631211246267

Girdauskienė, L., & Savanevičienė, A. (2007). Influence of knowledge culture on effective knowledge transfer. Engineering Economics, 4(54), 36-43.

Mintzberg, H. (1980). Structure in 5’s: A synthesis of the research on organization design. Management Science (Pre-1986), 26(3), 322. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/205849936?accountid=458

© 2015 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved