Posted by: Korry | February 13, 2012

Want a Great Culture? Start Communicating!

Standing in the heart of the Shinjuku ward in downtown Tokyo, it’s hard not to suffer from a bit of “culture shock.”

Shinjuku in Tokyo, Japan

The signs are in Japanese. The people are speaking Japanese, and unlike many other countries I’ve visited, it’s somewhat difficult to find people who speak even a small amount of English. (Insert snooty American comment here).

It’s as isolating as it is intriguing. No wonder Bill Murray found himself truly Lost in Translation

Only by visiting a place such as Tokyo where you are truly isolated can you begin to understand the importance of communication on culture and “fitting in.” By removing the written and spoken word, you immediately and instinctively revert to the more primitive forms of communicating–hand gestures, nods, smiles, shakes, etc. You need translators and interpreters. Seemingly simple tasks such as ordering at a restaurant become difficult, not to mention highly prone to errors. In economic terms, the “transaction costs” skyrocket.

Quite simply, communication is critical to the success and efficiency of any culture.

Yet while that seems easy to understand when it comes to nations, why do so many companies seem to fail to understand just how critical effective communication is to their own corporate cultures?

In my opinion, the answer is that speaking the same language can often hide the risks of failing to communicate as well as the benefits of effective communication. I think many companies come to believe that since people are busy and since they’re professionals, it’s just not necessary. They fear the important messages would be lost amongst “less important” ones, so it’s better to just give the bare minimum–the important stuff.

If people were just widgets, I guess the minimum level of communication would be ok; but we’re not widgets. We’re thinking creatures who don’t like to be told, “Just do it because I said so.” Just ask any parent how effective that technique is in the long run!

Add to that today’s ability to instantly access information thanks to Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, etc.–not to mention the rumor mill or company web forum–and you start to see that the “command and control” method of communication may have worked years ago, but not today.

Last week’s Quote of the Week said that information is giving out while communication is getting through. So to be effective, companies today need to have a dialogue, not a dictate. If companies merely dictate from above, how can they really understand if the information was understood at all since there’s no feedback loop? And furthermore, what incentive would the employees have to take ownership in the change?

I believe people today want to understand the “why” not just the “what.” Great cultures come from companies that understand how important “why” is to coworkers from every level of the organization. Great cultures come from companies that understand the power of engaging employees in the decision-making “why” process. Great cultures come from companies that understand that more primitive forms of communication just won’t do.

This may be a somewhat radical way of thinking (at least to those of the old school), but it works.

You can see the results of great cultures in the relationship Southwest Airlines has with its people, the most unionized workforce in the airlines today, and the year-after-year consistency in their financial performance. You can see the results of great cultures in the amazing turnaround of Ford led by CEO Alan Mulally.

Great cultures come from great teamwork which comes from great communication.

Do you want a great culture for your firm? What about your family? What about an organization to which you belong? If so, it starts with honest, focused, timely and positive communication. If you haven’t already started, are you ready to start today?

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  1. […] I mentioned yesterday, winning cultures start with an emphasis on communication. They consistently use The Top 5 […]

  2. […] that were compounded exponentially by the efforts they expended years beforehand. They believed in culture. They believed in possibilities. And they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. You’ve […]

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