Okay, so it’s a deliberately provocative title. But it’s grounded in truth, because there’s one simple thing, which all of us have the power to influence… which can literally make or break an organisation.

I’m talking about communication. It’s something most of us do all day, every day; like breathing, it’s almost instinctive. Because we communicate every single day, in both our home and our work lives, we make the mistake of thinking that it’s something we automatically do well. And this is where the problem starts.

Have a think for a moment about one of the challenges your organisation is experiencing. Maybe you can’t recruit the right talent into a business-critical team. Perhaps you’ve ordered insufficient goods to meet customer demand. Or could it be that your team member simply hasn’t delivered what’s expected of them.

Communication is at the heart

In every single one of these examples, it’s communication that lies at the heart of it. If you can’t hire the right talent in, it’s time to look at what you’re communicating externally in respect of your employer brand; time to look at how well you’ve communicated to the hiring manager what their proposed salary package will attract in respect of candidates, versus their expectations.

If there’s a mismatch between supply and demand, then either the projected future requirements haven’t been adequately communicated to your supply team, or, worse, you don’t have anyone whose responsibility it is to project and subsequently communicate these requirements at all. Alternatively, could it be that the requirements aren’t being received; that is, they’re being communicated, but no one is listening. Listening, of course, being as important a component of effective communication as speaking and writing are.

And if your team member isn’t delivering, then have you truly communicated to them what’s expected of them? Not just the once, but on multiple occasions, reinforcing what is needed, and following up with appropriate praise or guidance in response to performance?

Short-circuiting the communication loop

I’m going to go so far as to say that none of us communicate as effectively as we need to, and it’s what lies at the heart of pretty much every business challenge out there. With conflicting priorities on our time, we seek to short-circuit the communication loop, replacing it with an assumed level of understanding and prior knowledge.

Which is so dangerous, I cannot even begin to tell you. It’s those assumptions that we make which cripple our organisations, lead to people working at cross purposes, and ultimately result in failure.

I would encourage every single person reading this blog post to go back to one of the current challenges they’re facing in their workplaces. Assess and identify what has been communicated to date. Has it covered all points? Reached all necessary audiences? Been heard and been understood by those audiences?

And, in turn: have we listened to the response? Have we identified the potential barriers, considered and communicated ways of overcoming them? Have we ensured we haven’t given into the temptation to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the questions and the concerns which are being raised?

Everyone’s responsibility

It is true that management by committee almost never works, but it is also true that a business cannot succeed unless everyone within that business – at all levels, within all roles – takes responsibility for, and understands just how critical great communication really is. As managers, as business leaders, we have to take the time that is needed to ensure that our teams understand this, and to also facilitate the removal of those barriers to great communication.

Poor communication will kill a business, and great communication will ensure that it out-performs every single one of its competitors. If we want to ensure we consistently fall into the latter category, then it’s up to us to place effective communication at the very top of our strategic agenda.