When the blood supply is significantly reduced or even completely cut off for a period of time the body tissue can die. This is a potentially life threatening condition. Often the affected tissue needs to be removed to prevent death. The condition requires immediate attention. The Problem Lack of communication in certain functions in organizations is similar to lack of circulation in a body part. This lack of communication is also a life threatening condition for performance, employee loyalty, employee engagement, and productivity. The presence of this “communication gangrene” can “kill” these results. This is true for not only the select employees (body part) but for the entire system (the entire individual). Just like the entire body can die if the gangrene goes untreated, the entire organization can die unless an organization has a way to treat any gangrene and has a process to prevent it in the first place. Very often certain individuals are affected more than others when communication breakdowns occur. What is your current process for managing communication breakdowns and for preventing them? Do you ignore them until the body part begins to die and needs to be cut out? This is the equivalent of waiting until an employee has an emotional outburst and then holding a performance review meeting or even a corrective action meeting to either punish or threaten that employee. It is treating the symptom not the root cause. Just as amputation is treating the symptom, performance management is treating the symptom by blaming the individual for the poor communication. The problem is more complex in both the body and in the organization. They are both complex systems and need to be cared for and treated as such. In the organization, if these are your major options now, it is the equivalent of ignoring pain in your foot and waiting until it turns black before you take action. At that point usually the only option available is removal of the infected tissue or amputation of a portion of the limb. The equivalent would be the removal of the “infected person” and the reprimand, or removal, of the management in the function. The Symptoms Gangrene in the body manifests with discoloration, a foul-smelling discharge, severe pain and then a loss of feeling in the area. Other symptoms include confusion, fever, general ill feeling, low blood pressure and persistent or severe pain Communication breakdowns in organizations manifest with lower employee engagement. The employee stops participating and sharing information. He/she will have confusion, general ill feelings, anxiety, emotional outbursts, poor attitude, lack of cooperation, others making an effort to avoid the infected employee and working around him/her. Prevention Organizations that suffer from gangrene can, and must, take preventative action and it is not performance management. Removing the infected areas will not work long-term to improve the health of the organization just as removing limbs will eventually results in a paralysis. There are three steps leaders can take:
- Take a systems approach. Let employees know that the problem is not them but in the system they work within. Let them know you will help facilitate an improvement in circulation. Ask them to look for opportunities to improve circulation and to speak up immediately when they begin to feel the symptoms.
- When they speak up take immediate action and listen to their concerns. Work with them to identify the key communication hand offs that are not working. Just as a patient with gangrene feels the pain and may not understand how it happened, employees feel the pain of poor communication but they don’t know the root cause without help from the physician. You are the facilitator physician. They need your help. Create and implement an improvement process to identify the poor hand offs and improve them. Make sure you encourage them to solve their own problems with their internal customers and internal suppliers by using the tools you provide. Don’t solve their problems for them but instead facilitate them to take action. Make them self-reliant. Don’t allow them to become reliant on you.
- Insist they create checklists for improving communication hand offs. Let the checklists begin to improve the circulation. Encourage them to refine the checklists until all circulation of communication is working.
Information is the blood the organization needs to feed its functions. If the information slows or stops, the function can suffer and even die. If a function dies the life of the entire organization is threatened. Don’t let the function get gangrene. Have a process and facilitate action to prevent the infection.