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Redefine your communications, redefine your culture

4 min read


Do you remember Buzzword Bingo? It’s been a while, but you can still find this bingo-style game online. The object is to tick off every corporate buzzword uttered by a leader in a meeting. If you get five in a row, bingo! Scott Adams lampooned this in a “Dilbert” cartoon where an employee got bingo in the first sentence of a meeting.

Fortunately, things have changed. Technology has accelerated the conversion to more open and honest organizational communication that demands clear, frequent and interactive content.

As someone who specializes in organizational communication, I’m enthused about the changes I’m seeing in how we interact today:

  • Scripted to spontaneous
  • Formal to collegial
  • Veiled to direct
  • Directive to engaging
  • Blah to creative
  • One-way to two-way

The implications of these changes are significant. On the surface, you may think we just have more information. This is true. Have you noticed, however, that the information itself is changing? In the case of corporate communications, we used to speak in the third person with a stilted distant tone that belied the passion and meaning of our work. Without empathy or emotion, the communications were deadly boring, irrelevant or untrustworthy in employees’ eyes.

Today’s communication environment is timely, transparent, fun, and often challenging. Social media has propelled this transformation. Twitter streams globally 24/7 in 140-character chunks. Bloggers talk honestly about their views from personal experience and observation. Facebook acknowledges that employees have families, lives and interests outside of work. In this milieu, communications are direct, engaging and nonstop. Fundamentally, we’ve redefined what it means to engage with our workforces and one another.

The company I work for is changing the principles of our culture — especially how we work together and how we interact with customers, communities and partners. Our first priority was our communication style. We wanted to send a signal of what was ahead because how we communicate symbolizes the company’s values and vision. Boldly — and with a few missteps — we are pursuing a contemporary communication approach that reflects today’s expectations.

For example, we:

  • Launched new company values; set a vision and mission to unite us around the globe against one big goal
  • Commissioned an up-and-coming artist to present our vision, mission and values in a fresh and energizing way
  • Focused on key ideas that resonate across the organization, such as improving the world, collaboration and employee growth
  • Opened the strategy-renewal process from the start — sharing what the company’s doing and why
  • Launched an external blog written by employees and guest bloggers
  • Started an internal blog and invited employees to comment and communicate directly with other employees about their work and passions
  • Implemented employee chats, where employees decide what’s discussed
  • Increased customer-focused digital communication (inbound marketing) with a focus on what the customer wants and needs
  • Simplified the performance-management system, with the emphasis on dialogue and employee development

If you’re establishing your company culture or in the midst of changing it, a good and uncomplicated starting point is simply: How do you communicate?

Do you have defined principles that motivate what and how information is communicated? Do you expect managers and leaders to be open and welcoming? Do you have channels to regularly share information with employees and customers? Do the channels encourage engagement and dialogue? Are employees and customers the primary focus in your communications? Is your approach friendly, personal, direct, creative?

By aligning your communication channels with today’s expectations and that of your organization’s goals, you will build trust. We all desire that our leaders and companies walk their talk. Opening and broadening your communications also shows the company is willing to change too.

Fortune 500 or startup, your communication style and approach are sign posts of who you are and how you view your employees. A simple communication audit that includes employee feedback and suggestions, as well as a fresh look at what you’re doing today versus the rest of the world, can guide you to new places. It takes intention and discipline, but, yes, it’s possible to see almost overnight improvement in employee interest and engagement by committing to communications that reflect the organization you aspire to be.

Gretchen Rosswurm is the vice president of global corporate communications and corporate social responsibility at Celanese, a global chemical company in Dallas. Throughout her career, she has advised leaders on communication strategies to enhance employee engagement and improve business results. Follow her on Twitter @GRosswurm.