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Communication and Accountability - Key Ingredients to a Successful Company

by Bonni Carson DiMatteo, CMC

When the tragedy at the Boston Children's Hospital unfolded and the culprits of communication and accountability were named, more of us who work with leadership and organizational development were shocked. Though few organizations will face the devastating consequence of lost lives as a result, too many will acknowledge that it is the internal communication and role, responsibility confusion and accountability that undermines results.

Communication is the epicenter of a company.

Glazer's words are still true. We retain only 10% of what we read; 20% of what we hear; 30% of what we see, but when we discuss, experience of sharing information, we retain 70%, 80%, and 90%, respectively.

We still put on our hats of denial or optimism when it comes to what really works with communication. Listen closely to the din of many companies at the water cooler and you will hear the slow growing tsunami of staff from every level either confused about what a recent communication meant or irritated about what communication is missing. The communication or absence of it leaves people in a state of alert or apathy.

Miscommunication has direct correlation to morale, retention, and results. If, for example, you have a highly motivated individual contributor who prides herself on contribution and excellence but ends up feeling incompetent or mediocre because missing communication undermined her results, you have talent looking for other career options. You also have a corporate goal that will not be met. Or if you have a team where responsibility roles and accountability are often unclear and no one owns action plans or feedback loops, you have a net result where blame overrides results.

All companies from small family-owned to large global corporations have to manage communication more effectively. It begins at the top. Recent research attests to the belief that most leaders believe they are great at communication. However, when you ask their constituents if their leaders communicate well, only 50 percent agree. As many wise people in the communication field have attested, the greatest mistake in communication is the illusion it has occurred.

Senior leaders often neglect in their strategic planning or goals to include communication as a goal. Strategic plans die a very quick death when efforts to communicate, create buy in, and follow through are ignored.

Concomitant with communication is the clarity of who will do what, how, and when. Initiatives and implementation are left like dangling participles when a clearly owned action plan is not articulated. How many times have you been at executive team meetings where action terms from 1, 3, 10 meetings ago were never revisited for accountability?

Accountability Makes or Breaks a Plan

As leaders we have to take the initiative to put communication responsibility and accountability on the agenda. It is not enough to tell people the plan. You have to see it, discuss it, anticipate and plan for the impact, and be ready to retract it.

Make sure the plan does not get lost in the assumption that communication has occurred or the hope that everyone knows what part they will be expected to play in the execution of the plan.

As Boston Children's Hospital learned too late you need to:

Focus and clearly tell the plan.
Listen to the concerns, confusion.
Acknowledge their reactions.
Inquire what needs to be different.
Respond to the request.
Strategize and solve the issue.

The communication never stops on one level. It needs to be seen, heard, discussed, experienced and shared if you want a 95 percent chance of the communication and accountability understood. The stress and pace of most organizations result the extra effort for this effectiveness and just hope everyone got it. If that sounds like your company you might want to remember the words at a recent news conference by Dr. Mandell, CEO at Children's Hospital, "It was communication and confusion about responsibility and accountability which led to these tragedies."

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