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We live in an age where face-to-face communication is no longer necessary for doing business. People sitting at computer terminals can do almost anything without needing to interact with others. It is simple for a company to assign tasks to its employees through mass mailers, and receive the results electronically. However, humans are still social beings, and even silence means more than a thousand words. A successful enterprise requires a human face and effective communication to dispel misconceptions that may arise from misinterpreted policies. That is what Jim Shaffer proves with examples in his book, The Leadership Solution, where he outlines strategies to resolve such misconceptions.

What lies beneath

Shaffer begins with cases where either the lack of communication conveyed entirely the wrong meaning or an open approach was misunderstood. He cites the example of a CEO who stamped all company information with a 'Not Confidential' seal, and circulated the information. The upshot was that employees thought that they were being excluded from all significant information, because the existence of a 'Not Confidential' stamp suggested the existence of a corresponding 'Confidential' stamp, which no employee had never set eyes on. The CEO did not have a 'Confidential' stamp. The end result was that the CEO was under the impression that he had opened all doors to his employees. Naturally he felt that the workers were being unreasonable. On the other hand, a dissatisfied workforce believed that the CEO was hoarding information that he would not share.

Understand the concept

Title: The Leadership Solution
Jim Shaffer
Publication: Tata McGraw-Hill
Price: Rs 250

After establishing this premise, the author devotes time to define effective communication. After presenting a number of hypotheses, Shaffer quotes Jack Welch, ex-chairman GE: "Communication means everybody having the same set of facts. A leader must lead by ideas, not by controlling information."

He then explains that people emulate their leaders. The process of communication has to begin with the leader's actions. All too often, it happens that a policy of information sharing is set, but the actions and environment suggest otherwise. For instance, if all the executives sit on one floor that is furnished very differently from the rest of the office, there is no need for a prohibition notice—the average employee will feel awkward about approaching senior management, and will, by and large, stay away. The office environment therefore has to be conducive to interaction at all levels.

Evolve with time

The only permanent thing is change. Clichéd as that sounds, it is a universal truth, and the book alerts all organisations to avoid complacency once a free environment has been established. Communication needs and means evolve, and it is important to keep pace with that. Shaffer states that in a world where customer demands and standards shift daily, people need latitude to make quick decisions. “We can't expect them to 'do it the way they have always done it,' if it is no longer the best way, or if it has become irrelevant to their business needs," he writes.

What needs to be said

Having established a blueprint for communication strategy, the book expands on what people need to know if they are to be efficient workers. There are four aspects an organisation must clarify to its workforce:

Context: Every employee must know where the company stands in the market, and where he or she stands within the company.

Vision and strategy: The future of the company as the management has visualised it, and how the management plans to accomplish its goals has to be communicated.

Linkage: How the individual's work connects to the company’s objectives, and how the company, individual and teams will benefit once the goal is achieved.

Support: How the organisation will provide the required resources.

Bottom line

Although the order of concepts could be modified, the book covers all the important tenets of communication. It will make good reading for any CIO managing HR functions of the team—and aspiring to manage a company someday.

- Deepali Gupta

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Indian Express - Business Publications Division

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